Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank was on his way to the airport after the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles in 2011 when his friend and colleague, Bill Hampton, suffered a heart attack in the SUV in front of him.
Three years later, Plank recalled Hampton, Under Armour's 51-year-old senior director of pro leagues, dying on the side of the 101 Freeway. "You DIED?" he remembered thinking.
Hampton's death isn't the only reason Plank, 42, works out each morning, eats the same carefully planned, low-fat lunch, wears a Jawbone UP fitness band to track activity and sleep, and is determined to make his company a player in the burgeoning health and fitness tracking market. But the tragedy gave some meaning to Plank's sense that there is a need — and a large market — for products enabling people to be more proactive about their health.
"This is a very personal thing to me," said Plank, adding that he can't shake the belief that there should have been markers to alert Hampton or his doctors of serious issues.
"If Facebook owns social, if LinkedIn owns business, who owns your health?" Plank said. "The world cannot continue to build larger health care systems where you just sit around and wait for people to get sick."
Under Armour — and others — are racing to fill the market.
In a recent interview, Plank described an application the Baltimore-based sports apparel maker is developing — along with its 2013 acquisition, MapMyFitness — to aggregate users' health and fitness data from a variety of devices such as the Fitbit and Jawbone UP. Under Armour plans to release the app at January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Google and Apple, among others, also have unveiled services to allow users to collect health data in one place. Walgreen Co. receives data from customers' fitness trackers that can be turned into rewards points for purchases at its drugstores.
Plank said his rapidly growing company, which expects sales to top $3 billion this year, isn't deviating from its original mission. "Don't forget to sell shirts and shoes," reads one of the maxims in bright red on his office whiteboard.
"Because of our size and scale, we have all the luxury to be able to tweak off and try a few other things — not to be stagnant," Plank said over lunch recently. (Every day his lunch consists of a mix of skinless chicken, salmon, brown rice and broccoli, colleagues say.)
At 42, Plank, a former University of Maryland special-teams football player, is a true believer. On a recent morning, he said his Jawbone UP indicated he fell asleep in 16 minutes and slept for five hours, 13 minutes. The new app, which he is testing himself, also charts weight gains or losses and incorporates information from Under Armour's Armour39 — a chest strap that measures heart rate and calories burned — as well as from other devices.
Dressed casually in Under Armour apparel, Plank was interviewed at Under Armour's Tide Point headquarters, which has a vast performance training center and outdoor harborside field. He said he works out at 6:30 every morning.
"I don't have the option of getting fat," he said. "I like to try as much of our products as I can. Our sample size is size large, and I can't fit into our samples unless I'm at that size."
One in five Americans now owns a wearable monitoring device, and interest is growing, according to a just-released report by PwC's Health Research Institute. The researchers examined not only fitness bands but "items such as jewelry, glasses and clothing worn on, in and around the body incorporating sensors and other electronic technologies."
They concluded that wearables have applications for consumers and "healthcare organizations to improve care and potentially reduce costs through systems such as remote patient monitoring."
With more corporations offering high-deductible health plans, people may be increasingly motivated to track their health indicators. said Trine Tsouderos, director of the Chicago-based institute.
"That is our hypothesis, that it will change consumer behavior," Tsouderos said. "If you can monitor your own health better, maybe you can cut some of your own costs in the long run. We already see insurance companies experimenting with them as a way to encourage their members to have healthier habits."
Aggregating health data also presents Under Armour with the opportunity to engage in a new way with millions of consumers.
"We're betting on the fact that whether it's Samsung or iWatch or Fitbit or Jawbone or anybody else, there will always be another one of these [trackers] every six months," Plank said. "We don't care which products you like, but you should be using UnderArmour.com — which is now MapMyFitness — and having a reason to visit us every day."
There are already as many as 50,000 apps tracking sleep, steps, calories and other health or fitness data, Tsouderos said. A previous PwC report found Americans already spend $267 billion on "fitness and wellness" such as gym memberships and fitness apps.
In the current landscape, many of the devices don't communicate with one another. When Plank switched to a new brand of fitness tracker, the Jawbone, he said his old data was lost.
Google unveiled its health technology initiative, Google Fit, this year. Apple also released its new mobile app, Health, recently. Both are designed to provide users a broad health picture by compiling data from multiple apps and devices.
And Under Armour's much bigger rival, Nike, also offers a fitness tracking app called Nike+ that tracks activity and calories burned with a companion sportwatch or fitness band.
In its recent survey of 1,000 Americans, the PwC Health Research Institute found nearly half said they were very or somewhat likely to buy a health or fitness "wearable" in the next year.
Given how many of Under Armour's apparel or shoe customers will be plugged into fitness trackers, it could have been a missed opportunity not to ante up.
The acquisition of MapMyFitness "was a savvy move for Under Armour — it allowed them to stay at the forefront of fitness innovation and wearable fitness," said Matt Saler, director of sports marketing for Baltimore advertising and marketing firm IMRE. "Those users are squarely within Under Armour's target audience."
When it was acquired late last year, MapMyFitness — creator of the MapMyRun and MapMyRide mobile applications and websites — had more than 20 million registered users. It's up to 30 million now, according to Under Armour, which hopes the users will begin migrating to the new app next year.
"I could get on a rant about how proactive health is the next massive initiative," Plank said. "Today, unfortunately, you know more about your car then you do about your own body."