Under Armour Tries to Stem Trump Controversy
Under fire by top brand ambassadors for his pro-Donald Trump statements, Under Armour Chief Executive Officer Kevin Plank took out a full-page newspaper ad on Wednesday to lay out the company’s positions on issues including immigration—stances in opposition to those of the Republican president.
Though the company’s stars voiced opposition to Plank’s comments last week, the public relations effort took on added urgency after a Wall Street analyst downgraded the company.
Plank, 44, had declared that Trump is “pro-business” and a “real asset” in an interview on CNBC on Feb. 7. His position as a Trump supporter sparked an uproar from shoppers and very public dissent among Under Armour’s athletes, including his most-valued sneaker pitchman, basketball star Stephen Curry.
In a letter published by the Baltimore Sun, Plank said his words praising Trump “did not accurately reflect” his intent. He went on to call immigration “the foundation of our country’s exceptionalism” and reiterated that Under Armour Inc. now opposes Trump’s executive order to ban refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries (currently frozen by the courts). He vowed to join a coalition of companies that oppose such actions in anticipation of a new immigration order from the White House. Going forward, Under Armour will be taking public stances on legislation “in support of the interests of our teammates whenever policy conflicts with human rights,” he said.
The CEO, a member of Trump’s American Manufacturing Council, said Under Armour would “continue to engage with government.”
The past few weeks have been tumultuous for the clothing brand, which was already struggling to establish a niche among established rivals such as Nike Inc. In late January, the company reported disappointing earnings and offered a weak sales forecast that spooked investors. Earlier this week, a shareholder filed a class action lawsuit accusing Under Armour of misrepresenting its “growth and vitality.” The White House and Under Armour didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment, though the company has denied any wrongdoing in relation to the securities fraud litigation.
A trio of the brand’s biggest stars, Curry, ballet dancer Misty Copeland, and actor Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, spoke out against Plank’s comments last week. Curry and Copeland each said they personally spoke with the CEO about the matter.
Curry, the driving force behind Under Armour’s $1 billion sneaker business, slammed Trump and, in an interview with the Mercury News, raised the possibility he would cut ties with Plank and Under Armour.
“There is no amount of money—there is no platform I wouldn’t jump off—if it wasn’t in line with who I am,” said Curry.
Such a move would deal a critical blow to Plank’s efforts to establish the brand among teens and other sneaker fans. On a conference call last month, the CEO stressed the importance of Under Armour attaining a level of “cool” enjoyed by rivals, as well as expanding from on-court gear to street wear.
Offending Curry and Johnson—who are arguably and respectively the biggest athlete and actor out there—is probably not the way to get that done.