Under Armour remains committed to Baltimore amid unrest, Plank says

“We're proud of where we're from. We're not going anywhere,” Plank says

Under Armour remains as committed as ever to Baltimore and "open for business," its founder told shareholders at the global headquarters in Locust Point on Wednesday, two days after riots and looting broke out for hours in the city.

Kevin Plank, the chairman and CEO, said he was "deeply saddened by the events in our hometown," and that the thoughts and prayers of many at the sports apparel company have been focused on the family of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old who died after being severely injured in police custody.

Plank also said he wanted to express the company's support for local elected and law enforcement officials.

"We are one Baltimore and we will work toward positive change," both on and off the sports fields in city neighborhoods alongside city groups, Plank said during the company's annual meeting. "The people of Baltimore are resilient, and we are going to be better because of it. This is not a rebuilding of our city. This is a continuation of building our city."

Plank opened the meeting with comments on the civil unrest that boiled over on the day of Gray's funeral after days of peaceful protests over the Baltimore man's death. The violence prompted Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to call in the Maryland National Guard and impose a citywide 10 p.m. curfew.

Under Armour, which surpassed the $3 billion sales mark last year, intends to grow operations in Baltimore, its base for most of its 19 years, Plank said. The company got its start designing sweat-wicking T-shirts in a rowhouse in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood before setting up shop with just a few employees in Baltimore.

Plank told The Baltimore Sun last month he wants to create a new neighborhood on waterfront land he purchased in Port Covington, which would be anchored by a relocated headquarters for Under Armour and include shopping, restaurants, a distillery and even horse stables.

In an interview last year, Plank said Baltimore has the potential to become the "coolest city in the world" but the city needs to shed the collective chip on its shoulder.

Even as city's image has taken a battering with the riot, Plank said Wednesday he has not deviated from his commitment for growth both in the city and for the company. He spent most of the meeting outlining the brand's key drivers, including footwear such as running and basketball shoes, women's athletic wear for both inside and outside the gym, branded stores in places such as China and Brazil and digital fitness applications under the UA Record umbrella.

"We've seen a lot of energy around the women's active wear space," as a replacement for jeans, Plank said, while the footwear business that started in a small way with football cleats in 2006 has expanded into baseball, basketball, running and other sports

The brand, one of the only companies in the S&P 500 to have achieved 20 consecutive quarters of sales growth of more than 20 percent, also is getting a boost through the recognition of its high profile athlete endorsers. Through video montages, Plank highlighted Masters golf tournament winner Jordan Spieth, ballet soloist Misty Copeland, NBA star Stephen Curry and Super Bowl winning quarterback Tom Brady, and newer products such as Speedform Gemini running shoes.

"The message we want to drive is we are just getting started," said Plank, reiterating that the brand expects to someday achieve $10 billion in sales. "2014 was a banner year for us, but we are just taking steps toward becoming the company we think we can be."

One of the newer areas of focus is the digital realm, said Robin Thurston, the company's chief digital officer. Thurston created the now Under Armour-owned MapMyFitness because, as a competitive bicycle racer, he saw a need to share training routes and track sleep, activity and nutrition.

"Digital is changing everything — and rapidly," said Thurston, noting that the number of people with smartphones, used to access fitness apps, is expected to double in the next fiver years.

In a question and answer period, several shareholders made pleas to Plank to design for senior citizens who have both the desire and means to buy athletic apparel. But, as one woman put it, "we do not need to expose our belly button."

Plank, who noted that his 82-year-old mother was in attendance, told them he would take their requests under advisement.

Some shareholders encouraged Plank to take a leadership role in helping the city emerge from a chaotic period.

Plank said that while companies help cities, rather than lead them, "We're excited about the future we will be part of building. … We're proud of where we're from. We're not going anywhere."

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
34°