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Under Armour is still mapping out its digital fitness future

Baltimore,MD -- Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank speaks Thursday at the company's annual shareholders meeting, held for the first time at the new office in Port Covington, where the company plans a new headquarters campus.
Baltimore,MD -- Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank speaks Thursday at the company's annual shareholders meeting, held for the first time at the new office in Port Covington, where the company plans a new headquarters campus. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

Through the digital fitness applications Under Armour has been buying up over the past few years, the Baltimore-based sports apparel maker has collected all sorts of information about users — how much they sleep, exercise and weigh, what they've eaten and even how they feel.

For consumers, it's all about measuring and improving health and fitness on mobile or wearable devices. But just how the data will benefit the brand remains to be seen, Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank told shareholders Thursday.

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"What we've ultimately built is hard to quantify … the world's largest digital health and connected fitness community," Plank said during the company's annual meeting. "What are we going to do with this data? I'll tell you, we're figuring that out."

By combining consumers' daily habits with the particulars of what they buy and when they shop at Under Armour stores or websites, he said, "we can decide how we market to you."

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Under Armour moved into the digital market in 2013 when it acquired website and app maker MapMyFitness. Last year, the company invested $560 million to acquire the creators of mobile health and fitness applications MyFitnessPal and Endomondo, and released its own app, UA Record, which can aggregate users' data from a variety of devices. Earlier this year, the company launched the UA HealthBox suite of fitness tracking devices.

Plank offered his vision for the future of digital fitness while also outlining strategies for wooing international consumers in places such as China and Turkey, pushing women's apparel sales to exceed men's and taking a bigger chunk of the footwear market in core areas such as basketball and running.

The company, which reached nearly $4 billion in sales in 2015 and is projecting $5 billion this year, expects to nearly double in size over the next three years to $7.5 billion.

The men's apparel category, where the company started two decades ago, continues to expand through newer categories such as golf and outdoor clothing, and new products such as the "swacket," a combination sweater-jacket that Under Armour will introduce this fall.

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"Women's continues to be a massive, massive opportunity," said Plank, noting the category reached $1 billion in sales last year.

And the company has gained traction in footwear, spurred by a growing array of running shoes and the popularity of Stephen Curry basketball shoes, said Plank, addressing shareholders while wearing the brand's limited edition 3-D-printed shoe, the UA Architech.

Shareholders jammed an auditorium at the brand's new satellite office at Port Covington, where Plank's real estate firm, Sagamore Development, is requesting a record $535 million in public financing for a $5.5 billion redevelopment that includes a new corporate campus and larger community of new offices, stores, apartments and parks.

Shareholder Bob Greco, a retiree from Pasadena, reflected the sentiment of many shareholders, who saw shares soar 19 percent last year and more than 1,200 percent since the company went public just over a decade ago.

"I have a new name for you — King Midas," said Greco, who said he and other family members have long been Under Armour investors. "Everything you touch turns to gold."

George White, an information technology and computer science engineer from Burke, Va., attended his first Under Armour meeting Thursday and was heartened to hear about the company's international growth.

"They're on the right path as far as expanding," White said.

But Plank also found himself defending the company, as shareholders raised concerns about lack of diversity of the board of directors and the company's founder-led approach to corporate governance. Only one woman, Karen W. Katz, serves on a board of all white members, one shareholder said.

Plank, who said the company is constantly evaluating potential directors, acknowledged the lack of diversity, but said the experience of the current members has benefited the company and that change "doesn't happen overnight."

Sandra Polselli, who traveled from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for the meeting, encouraged Plank to consider expanding into women's plus sizes.

"Under Armour has a whole untapped market," she said.

Shareholders have come to expect an Under Armour athlete to appear at the annual event, and this year American sprinter Natasha Hastings emerged from the audience to chat with Plank.

Hastings, who won a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, will compete in the Games this summer in Rio de Janeiro.

"When I put the uniform on and go to perform, I feel like I have the company's backing," she said, adding that since she signed with Under Armour in 2012, "I can see the evolution and the growth, especially in shoes."

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