“Changing the way athletes dress to changing the way athletes live” – Kevin Plank, Under Armour CEO
How much data is too much data? Under Armour’s Connected Fitness endeavor believes that consumers want a device that tracks every aspect of personal health, which means there is no such thing as too much data. From sleep cycles to nutrition to heart rate, Under Armour is attempting to create a phone app that will give you more give you more current and multi-dimensional personalized medical information than your doctor currently has while also being your personal athletic training coach. Is all of this data collection useful enough for the casual athlete to justify Under Armour’s $700m investment in Connected Fitness? 1 Constant data collection may be helpful for professional athletes like Michael Phelps, Stephen Curry, Lindsey Vonn, or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but Connected Fitness seems more like an overuse of technology when sold to the mainstream consumer. Under Armour’s exploration of emerging online fitness communities and investments in technology discoveries are important because there is an undeniable consumer trend towards digital products, but the company and its consumers are still learning how to best apply and use these new devices.
Digital transformation has created a new business opportunity for Under Armour and the company’s business model has adapted by offering new products. As Under Armour CFO Brad Dickerson said, “Connected Fitness is a completely different kind of technical space than our core business. We’re investing way ahead of the curve.”1 The company that was previously known for sweat-wicking apparel is attempting to grow into a personal health company. The business model for this endeavor is to sell new connected devices (UA Band, etc) and provide apps (offered through free trials and supported by advertisements and freemium models) that collect data so that the company’s Connected Fitness platform can provide actionable insight to its consumers (athletes), such as how much food they need to eat, how hard they need to workout, and how many hours they need to sleep.
Under Armour quickly realized that it did not have the operational capabilities to enter the new world of sensory feedback, GPS tracking, and social networks so the company created a new operating model, starting with acquiring MapMyFitness in 2013, followed by two other fitness community Apps, EndoMondo and MyFitnessPal. Under Armour’s workforce also shifted significantly. In 2013 Under Armour had fewer than 12 engineers in a company of 8,000 people, but through acquisitions and internal new hires, the company’s Connected Fitness team now has roughly 100 dedicated engineers and a Digital Team of more than 500 employees.
Digital Health and Connected Fitness Communities are two new concepts, made possible by new technology breakthroughs. While I am pessimistic about the current usefulness of wearable technology for the average consumer or casual athlete beyond a fun holiday present, I am excited for Under Armour to refine its products and marketing message over the coming years. As we have seen in Li & Fung and UberPOOL, new technology allows companies to expand their product offerings, but just because something is possible does not mean it is a good business idea. UnderArmour needs to educate consumers about why Digital Health tools are important enough to pay $300 for a UA HealthBox (includes UA Band, UA Scale, and UA heart rate monitor torso band) or to record your food intake at every snack and meal. Currently, the products seem in a trial phase and only useful for professional athletes or fitness fanatics.
1- Connected Fitness Presentation, Under Armour Analyst Meeting (2/10/2015), http://investor.underarmour.com/events.cfm?Year=2015
https://youtu.be/IOkzta6p8ME, Kevin Plank speech at National Retail Federation’s “Retail’s BIG Show 2016” (1/19/2016)