May 22, 2018
Under Armour's Raphael Lefort: "Spain is a strategic priority for the brand"
May 22, 2018
Spain is a "strategic market and a priority" for the European expansion of US sport brand Under Armour. The US group, in the words of Raphael Lefort, South Europe Director and a professional with a 22-year experience in the industry, is devoted to improving its customers’ sporting experience via social media and apps, and by incorporating cutting-edge technology in its training and running products.
Lefort was interviewed by Europa Press at the US company’s headquarters in San Just Desvern, on the outskirts of Barcelona, from where he runs the Under Armour business in Spain, Portugal, Andorra and Gibraltar.
"Spain is a crucial market for the brand’s expansion in Europe. We were born in the USA just over 20 years ago, then the UK was our gateway to Europe, followed by Germany and France, and now we have come to Spain, which is a strategic market and a priority for us," said Lefort.
Under Armour first established its reputation in the USA, where it was launched in 1996 by former University of Maryland football player Kevin Plank. The US remain the motor of the American multinational, accounting for 80% of its total sales, but Under Armour products are now available in more than 60 countries, and European revenue grew 55% in the first quarter 2017.
Among Under Armour’s current posse of ambassadors are sport icons like Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, American football legend Tom Brady, the NBA’s Stephen Curry and British tennis champion Andy Murray. However, none of the big names in Spanish sport, like tennis ace Rafa Nadal, swimmer Mireia Belmonte, badminton professional Carolina Marin or basketball star Pau Gasol wear Under Armour livery yet.
Under Armour’s strategy in Spain, according to Lefort, is based on a strong marketing effort, and on establishing a connection with consumers via sponsorship agreements with high-calibre athletes.
"We are currently at the building stage, and we are starting regular conversations with some athletes. We hope that, in a short time, we will manage to strike deals with some of them, in order to be able to grow the brand," added Lefort.
Under Armour is also keen to start working with Spain’s La Liga football clubs, as it did with the Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspur [now sponsored by Nike], and other top-tier football clubs like Cruz Azul in Mexico, St. Pauli in Germany or Sao Paulo FC in Brazil.
“Signing up Real Madrid or Barcelona? Of course, these are two icons of world football, the doors are open for working on an agreement, but competition with other brands such as Nike or Adidas is very tough. Football is a very important sport for us, and if there is a chance, we will try to exploit it," said Lefort.
Collaboration with HTC
Training and running are Under Armour’s core sports, though the group doesn’t neglect other activities such as football, golf and basketball. The US group is also keen on apps, another strategic element of its future growth. "We have 230 million connected users, a colossal figure. Our goal is to be able to interact with consumers," said Lefort.
Customers can monitor their training programme, check on the quality of their sleep and their diet, and record their daily activities through 'UA Record', Under Armour’s first connected fitness app. A few years ago, in 2013, Under Armour bought MapMyFitness, one of the world’s foremost fitness tracking apps.
In 2017, Under Armour signed a collaboration agreement with Taiwanese consumer electronics company HTC, focusing on total connectivity. "It’s a key element in our strategy, and we have now entered a second stage, creating tools that will allow us to connect sneakers with smartphones," said Lefort.
The training and running categories remain the essence of Under Armour, since fitness training "occupies 99 percent" of athletes’ time, regardless of the discipline they practice. Under Armour is also busy on the launch of the 'HOVR’ shoe, an ultra-light model fitted with a sole providing cushioning and energy return.
"We want to establish ourselves as more than a sport apparel company. Our philosophy is to create products incorporating the best technology and design. Customers wear our apparel when they practice sports, but also when they go out, go to a club or to work, and they are proud of wearing Under Armour," said Lefort.
Under Armour’s next Autumn-Winter and Spring-Summer collections will feature the same ingredients: light-weight products for all athletes, with the best design. "Everything will be connected, and when you walk into your home wearing [Under Armour] shoes, all the information will be stored on your phone. This is the future, and we will keep going in that direction," concluded Lefort.
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