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Under Armour Goes en Pointe in Its Bid for Women

Under Armour Goes en Pointe in Its Bid for Women

Courtesy Under Armour

Under Armour (UA), a business built by zigging where Nike (NKE) zagged, is pivoting its brand yet again. Think pink tutus and grace, instead of grumpy old Ray Lewis and chains.

The Baltimore sportswear giant, the brainchild of a football jock, has signed a multiyear sponsorship deal with Misty Copeland, a soloist at New York’s American Ballet Theatre. Copeland is an interesting choice for Under Armour (UA), and not just because she isn’t a dreadlocked wide receiver or muscle-bound cage fighter.

Unlike Lindsey Vonn (another Under Armour athlete), Copeland doesn’t, in fact, win anything. She never shakes a fist in triumph like the athletes in Nike’s sponsorship stable: tennis star Maria Sharapova, goalie Hope Solo, and track star Carmelita Jeter, to name a few.

The masses of women who Under Armour needs to connect with can probably relate to that. What’s more, Copeland’s presence dials down the company’s macho, “protect this house” culture.

The company has been vocal for at least a year about its bid to build its women’s apparel business. But Kevin Plank, Under Armour’s chief executive, acknowledged this morning that hiring a ballerina represents a sizable strategy shift. Ballerina is a word “I didn’t expect [to be] saying on an earnings call when I started the business in 1996,” he said on a conference call.

Any apparel executive crunching numbers is bound to see far more potential in yoga pants and running jackets than in, say, football gloves. Not surprisingly, Plank said his charge is trying to “redefine what it means to be an athletic female.”

Slightly more than one in five of Under Armour’s sales dollars last year came from women’s wear, the company said this morning—more than $500 million in all. It expects that momentum to continue, a factor behind its increase today in its 2014 earnings outlook.

“One of the reasons we are so bullish on our women’s business is that there has been a quiet shift going on where women are increasingly wearing quote-unquote athletic products outside of the gym,” Plank said. “We think the reality is this shift is more permanent than some may expect.”

In other words, life, in general, is a workout. From that perspective, Copeland is the perfect endorsee; she probably never stops working out.

Investors may well agree. After Plank talked about ballet this morning, the stock shot up almost 25 percent to a record high.

Stock is an associate editor for Twitter: @kylestock

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