As it looks to spread its brand internationally and make a splash at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Under Armour is putting its athletes, newest sports apparel and latest marketing campaigns on display.
On Tuesday, dozens of journalists from around the globe — China, Brazil, Turkey, Germany and elsewhere — spent the day at the Locust Point headquarters for the company's first-ever "Worldwide Media Summit." They tagged along as swimmer Michael Phelps, the world's most decorated Olympian, worked out in Under Armour's gym. They heard about the brand's Baltimore-based production of the first-ever 3D printed shoe, and they were given a glimpse of uniforms that Under Armour athletes plan to wear at the Brazil summer games.
Executives said they planned the summit in part to help propel the brand's small but growing share of sales from international consumers, a key growth area along with the women's market and footwear.
"It is the perfect time to introduce more people across the globe to the brand," Kevin Haley, president of product and innovation, said in an interview.
The company just unveiled its first suite of wearable technology products and has gotten a boost in name recognition and sales through the success of sponsored athletes such as NBA star Stephen Curry and golfer Jordan Spieth. It expects a spike in exposure from the Olympics, where Phelps, competing in his fifth games, will be among 250 athletes wearing Under Armour logos for training or competition.
The brand showed off men's and women's uniforms for USA Gymnastics, designed with four-way stretch to allow for greater mobility in all directions and with extra compression to help increase blood flow. For USA Boxing and Canada Rugby, the company is using its "CoolSwitch" and ArmourVent technologies, designed to draw away heat and increase airflow.
In a limited product launch this week, the company has begun selling the Architech, billed as the world's first 3D printed mid-sole sneaker and made in the company's Innovation Center in Baltimore.
Whether or not the technology, still expensive, will work for larger-scale production is still being determined, said Peter Ruppe, senior vice president of footwear.
"We might be five years ahead of the curve," Ruppe said.
Under Armour released a video Tuesday featuring Phelps' behind-the-scenes training for the Olympics, part of the second chapter of the "Rule Yourself" marketing campaign showing athletes as the "sum" of their training. One spot features members of the U.S. women's gymnastics team.
The message speaks to the shift in a brand that started out two decades ago to "change the way athletes dress" and now aspires to "change the way athletes live," said Adrienne Lofton, senior vice president of global brand marketing.
Phelps, a Baltimore native who said he grew up wearing Under Armour sports apparel and shoes and wears the brand exclusively when out of the pool, said the video released Tuesday accurately shows the grind and sacrifice of his daily routine. The 90-second film is set, fittingly, to "The Last Goodbye." Phelps, an expectant father accompanied Tuesday by fiancee Nicole Johnson, reiterated again that Rio will be his final Olympics.
"It really is who I am and what I do," Phelps said of the spot, adding that he's going into the competition determined to give 100 percent, a change in attitude from four years ago. "I'm on top of every small thing. The small things end up making a big difference in the end.
"I'm more relaxed in my own skin than I've ever been," he said. "Whatever happens at the end of the year, I will be able to look back and say I prepared myself as well as I could."