In the carnival of sponsorship that is the World Cup, Under Armour has just two plays. Scratch that—the apparel company has two players: Cameroon’s Benoit Assou-Ekotta (a defender) and Mexico’s Alfredo Talavera (a back-up goalkeeper).
Needless to say, Under Armour is not in attack mode when it comes to the beautiful game. For a company that has made a lot of noise about expanding internationally and winning market share from giants Adidas and Nike, Under Armour is shockingly silent on the world’s biggest soccer stage.
Assou-Ekotta’s posts on Twitter are more or less the extent of Under Armour’s World Cup marketing to date:
There’s also this strange campaign featuring the company’s Superman shirts:
Under Armour didn’t even want to talk about the World Cup this week when asked about its strategy, deciding only to point out that two of the tournament’s almost 800 players will be wearing its new boots. This is not what we’ve come to expect from a $12.5 billion business built on athlete endorsements, mixed with a lot of chest-thumping and angry yelling.
It’s not as if Under Armour doesn’t have a soccer product to sell. Its new cleats, dubbed Clutchfit FG, sell for Nike-esque $175 and have all the buzzwords that players look for these days: second-skin, footbed molds, a symmetrical lace system. “We are on a mission to be the head-to-toe brand in baseball, softball, soccer, football … basically any participation sport that Under Armour can make a difference,” Glenn Silbert, vice president of global product, promised at an analyst meeting a year ago.
Under Armour certainly isn’t averse to soccer sponsorships. It signed a five-year deal in 2011 to outfit Tottenham Hotspur, in the English Premier League, at a cost of up to $16 million a season. The company also has a rash of deals with smaller clubs such as Colo Colo, which is kind of Chile’s Manchester United, and Cruz Azul, a popular club in Mexico City.
To be sure, any apparel money thrown at the World Cup would be swamped by a tide of dollars from Adidas and Nike. Under Armour has less than 1 percent of the U.S. soccer cleat market, according to Princeton Retail Analysis. Still, brands far smaller than Under Armour are making an impact in Brazil. When Costa Rica pulled off the upset of the tournament thus far—a 3-1 victory over Uruguay —”Los Ticos” were wearing Lotto jerseys.
Belgium, a dark-horse team, is sporting kits made by Burrda, a Swiss apparel company that’s more than a decade younger than Under Armour. Burrda’s other big sponsorship play? The U.S. National Handball Team.
So what happened? One theory: Under Armour simply got beat by the competition, both small and large. It opened an online store in Brazil only earlier this year, a step that Karl-Heinz Maurath, head of the company’s international division, talked up in a meeting with investors 12 months ago. “We will be read if I am honest—not really for World Cup 2014 any longer,” he said. “But for Copa America 2015 and Rio de Janeiro and the Olympics in 2016.”
In soccer, it appears, Under Armour is still hustling to qualify.