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Super debut for new shoe line

The Baltimore Sun

Under Armour Inc. unveiled its line of running shoes to a small crowd of representatives for retailers and fitness magazines in New York yesterday, and executives said the products will be available in stores Super Bowl weekend.

The launch of the shoes will be the largest in the Baltimore sports apparel company's history. But it will also come during the toughest retail environment in years, as consumers worried about job and investment losses have curbed their spending.

Running is also a more competitive market than the shoe categories the company has already entered, including cross trainers and football and baseball cleats.

Under Armour seems confident it can beat the odds. It hopes to attract new consumers to the running category by targeting all athletes and not just hard-core runners - which is why it is launching the line around the biggest sporting event of the year.

The company also said the shoe's technology distinguishes it from others. For instance, a sleeve inside the shoe is designed to keep the foot dry and prevent injuries such as blisters.

"We're going to take running and focus it on an athlete and not necessarily just on a runner, and that is going to make us unique and assure us a little bit given the economy and the competitors in the space," said Raphael Peck, senior vice president of footwear.

In typical Under Armour marketing fashion, the company will build up to the first day of sales, beginning with 30-second commercials airing on MTV, ESPN and the NFL Network on Jan. 1. "Athletes Run" will be the marketing slogan. The shoes, which are made in Asia, will hit stores Jan. 31, the day before the Super Bowl. Six styles will be priced at $85 to $120.

The company is not disclosing how many running shoes it will bring to market in the first year. But executives said it will be much larger than this year's cross trainer launch, when 1 million shoes were brought to market.

Thomas Shaw, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus, said that it's not an ideal time to be launching a new product but that consumers have been trading up to the typically more expensive high-performance gear despite the economy.

"I think you're going to have a demographic that is going to buy the shoe just because it's Under Armour," Shaw said. "I think you have a built-in group of people who will buy the shoe regardless of what they hear about it."

The running shoe campaign will feature athletes such as soccer player Heather Mitts, Ironman champion Chris "Macca" McCormack and New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs.

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