I love the battle for sports brand supremacy. I like it most in the digital arena, where the perception of the stakes differ remarkably depending on to whom one is speaking. If you spoke to a Nike executive, my guess as indicated in previous posts, is that socks are much more important than their digital efforts which have lost hundreds of millions of dollars over the past 10 years. If you spoke to an Under Armour executive, you might find the opinion that data and digital and connected experiences are the future, not an appendage of the future. (Obviously spending $700M would make you easily come to that conclusion). In other words, it is the product, it is not marketing for other products although that is a nice intended benefit. Such is the luxury of being the little brother in the battle for sports brand supremacy, albeit a brother that is eating his Wheaties, taking big risks and growing up VERY fast).
It is no secret that Nike’s digital products, across Nike.com, Nike+ Running, Nike+ Training, and Nike+ Fuel have been less than spectacular and often quite confusing to users. Fuelband was discontinued and nobody really knows what Nike Fuel is and why they should use it. There is no integrated digital platform experience, except perhaps in a sense that one might have a single identity across experiences and the notion of creating an ecosystem of companies using Nike Fuel as a central currency just doesn’t seem to have materialized in a meaningful way.
In contrast, over the past 3 years, Under Armour has been ramping up in the digital arena, first by making bold (and some mights say expensive) acquisitions of large app ecosystems, predominately MapMyFitness, Endomondo and MyFitnessPal, launching a unified open platform for activity tracking (Record), and now, relaunching the integrated ecosystem with its Healthbox scale, activity tracker and chest straps.
What is significant about the launch of Healthbox, is not the box itself, or its components. In conjunction with HTC, Under Armour has created an integrated consumer product package that may or may not be successful as standalone products. What is more significant is that with 160M combined registered users (not sure how many are active) to start with across its platform, applications, and devices, and an open interoperable platform that enables users to have the freedom to use any wearable device, any application, any article of workout clothing, wear any pair of shoes (e.g. the Speedform Gemini 2 connected ones) that have mechanisms to transfer data into the Record platform, UA seems to be building tremendous momentum at a time when Nike’s digital sport team has been awfully quite.
It will be very interesting to see how this race unfolds to develop industry-leading digital products, and then harness the data within in ways that not only change consumer’s lives, but also are as profitable as the sock business and don’t subject Mark Parker or Kevin Plank to constant quarterly barrages of analysts wondering how and when data turns into profits!