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Football-playing teenage girl makes plea to Under Armour at annual meeting

Football-playing teenage girl makes plea to Under Armour at annual meeting
Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank talks football and marketing with Mahogany Kelly, 13, who came from New Jersey to urge the company to depict more girls playing football in its advertising. (Lorraine Mirabella / The Baltimore Sun)

Mahogany Kelly, a 13-year-old from New Jersey who plays football, traveled with her mother to Under Armour’s annual shareholder meeting Thursday in Baltimore to ask CEO Kevin Plank for help encouraging more girls to play the sport.

“It has come to my attention that there’s not enough motivation or inspiration for girls who play football,” said the seventh grader, who said friends often won’t follow through with their desire to play. “I feel this is happening because there’s not enough girls seeing other girls in mainstream marketing playing football.

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“I feel that a great company like Under Armour, if they showed girls playing football, more would be inspired to play … and parents wouldn't prevent their kids playing a sport that’s not just for boys but for girls like me,” Kelly said. “I’m just asking for a great company to show great girls that they can do more.”

The teenager’s comments capped off an annual meeting during which Plank and other executives assured investors a corporate turnaround plan is working and said a focus on sports performance over fashion will catapult the Baltimore-based sportswear brand to stronger profitability and the next level of growth in the United States and overseas.

“We feel very good about where we are right now,” Under Armour President Patrik Frisk told shareholders.

Kelly’s plea captured the attention of Plank and several board members, including two female directors who approached the girl and her mother to compliment her after the meeting.

Director Karen W. Katz, former CEO of Nieman Marcus Group, told Kelly her comments were inspiring and likely would prompt a discussion at the board meeting in the afternoon.

Plank briefly met with the Cape May resident and her mother after a shareholder question-and-answer period and promised the brand would “help you in your goal.” He said Under Armour has a role to play in convincing parents that youth football is safe for boys and girls, and in working to reverse a trend in the United States in which 70% of kids drop out of team sports by age 13.

“The values that many of us learned through team sports are things that aren’t being encouraged for either boys or girls after that age,” said Plank, a former University of Maryland football player. “That’s the platform that we really see as an opportunity for Under Armour, for us to make a big difference as a brand. … I know the power of what sport does. It trains us and makes us better students. … It makes us better teammates, which ultimately means better friends.”

Mahogany Kelly, a 13-year-old football player from New Jersey, poses with Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank at the company's annual meeting Wednesday.
Mahogany Kelly, a 13-year-old football player from New Jersey, poses with Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank at the company's annual meeting Wednesday. (Lorraine Mirabella/The Baltimore Sun)

Kelly, an outside linebacker and running back on her team, said she started playing football in fourth grade after she and a friend would race on their street.

“He always said, ‘Mahogany, you’re so fast. You should try football,’ and a flyer came home for cheerleading and football, and I tried cheerleading before and I didn’t like it at all,” she said. “With that in the back of my head, I said I’ll try football and I loved it. … The boys are like my brothers.”

Plank began Thursday’s meeting telling investors about the company’s five-year plan, announced in December during Under Armour’s investor day. The goals include rebuilding the $5.2 billion company’s brand in the U.S. and boosting international sales from about a quarter of sales to account for about 42 percent of business in the next five years.

Much of that growth is expected to come in the Asia Pacific region, where the company has most of its 300 new international stores.

The company, now in its 23rd year, is in the final year of a three-year turnaround plan. It’s designed to reverse a slide in sales, mostly in the key U.S. market, and make Under Armour more efficient, innovative and quicker to anticipate consumer trends in the sports apparel and footwear market.

“Winning in North America is critical to this strategy,” Plank said.

He cited the most recent quarter’s financial performance as evidence the plans are working. The company beat fourth-quarter sales and profit expectations during the first three months of the year amid growth in shoe sales and overseas. It also has made strides in reducing excess inventory — a problem that had led to excessive discounting — and in boosting its profit margins.

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Under Armour is betting heavily on new product platforms such as its HOVR footwear, launched in running shoes and expanded to other sports categories and designs, and the Rush line, an upgrade to its base layer apparel that’s designed to recycle energy during workouts. The brand also is preparing to introduce new versions of NBA star Stephen Curry’s signature basketball shoe.

“Our innovation pipeline is full,” Plank said.

Those products are being designed to appeal to “focused performers,” a consumer segment that makes up a $92 billion market, Frisk said.

The brand has “laser focus on a very specific consumer, that we expect to build product for the athletes who want to perform,” Plank said. “Athletic performance defines this brand.”

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