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Under Armour And Nike: Fighting To Win The Next Round

Under Armour is all in on data, while Nike hopes to enhance its performance with diversity.

Under Armour And Nike: Fighting To Win The Next Round

UA endorser Misty Copeland embodies the company’s new twist on athletic apparel.

[Photo: Kevin Mazur, WireImage, Getty Images]

Ask Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank if he’s running an apparel company and he’ll tell you that UA is now a "math house." As he told investors last year, "A math house uses data to shorten the distance between a brand and consumers."

What does that mean for, say, Nike, UA’s longtime target? "[A brand] that will experience difficulty keeping up with a math house is a ‘legacy company,’ " Plank said. Ouch!

Under Armour spent $710 million to acquire three quantifiable-self fitness apps and then developed its own wearable band, heart-rate monitor, and digital scale. It is committed to learning from the activity of more than 160 million registered users.

Nike, by contrast, has stepped down its digital efforts since discontinuing its FuelBand wearable in 2014. It claims only about one-fifth as many fitness-app users as UA.

But Nike, which generated $30 billion in 2015 revenue compared with UA’s $4 billion, is emphasizing a different angle to combat UA’s data play: diversity. In May, the company revealed that a majority of its employees were nonwhite, and as Nike CEO Mark Parker notes, "Diversity unleashes innovation."

Diversity versus data: Each company has its performance enhancer. Now it’s time to do something cool with it.

A version of this article appeared in the July/August issue of Fast Company magazine.

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