After group fitness class one day, someone asked me if I had a contract with Under Armour. Much of my workout gear is from Under Armour, so I assume this is what sparked the question. My answer was "No, unfortunately" since I am no where close to a fitness model or famous enough to get paid for wearing a specific brand of athletic apparel. The question sparked a longer conversation between us that eventually landed on the debate of "are you a Nike person or an Under Armour person?" I thought I would follow up that debate with some informal analysis here.
As most know, Nike became famous for being a basketball brand thanks in large part to Air Jordan, and continued today thanks to LeBron and Kobe. Not many are aware though that Nike originated as a running shoe brand, which is part of the reason they are still prevalent in the track & field market.
Under Armour basically originated the "dry fit"-style football undershirt, but has clearly branched out into so much more these days thanks to the launch of their running shoe line, and continued branch out into nearly all forms of athletic apparel.
Nike holds a solid presence in football, featured by their Pro Combat line. I was actually a Nike-guy my entire football life, I never wore anything other than Nike cleats, and that is despite playing for a school with a two-year contract with Reebok until I was a junior.
Under Armour has not yet penetrated the football cleat market as deeply as Nike, but their apparel is closing fast. They have also been smart to go after the youth/high-school market with their name-sponsored high school football All-American game being one example. Nike has attempted to counter this with their SPARQ training brand.
Moving strictly to observations (and admittedly this sample size is limited to what I see at my gym each day or runners I notice while driving down the street) it seems as though Nike is somewhat more popular in the female demographic as it relates to runners. I've been told their running/fitness apparel is "cute" by lots of women, whereas the options are somewhat more limited for men. Both genders have great shoe options, however as it relates to apparel, Nike seems to put more of its efforts behind the basketball market (another comparison would be how Adidas directs most of its apparel towards the soccer market).
While I played football (and high school basketball) in nothing but Nikes, I'm strictly an Under Armour shoe person for running and workouts. Saucony is an outlier since I do have a couple pairs of their running shoes, but I don't want to stray from the main two focuses of this debate. When Under Armour launched their running shoe line in January of 2009, I picked up a pair and was blown away with how good they were. It seems as though the general public consensus is that they are solid shoes, which goes to show that as important as fashion may be, quality always wins when it comes to athletic footwear.
I should also say that I had the chance to meet and workout with Team USA Women's Soccer Olympian (and Under Armour endorser) Heather Mitts recently, who told me Under Armour running shoes were "by far" the best shoe she has ever worn for serious runners and athletes. I was already wearing UA shoes at the time, so I don't think she was trying to "sell" me.
I'm not sure what degree of market-share UA may have claimed from Nike since they dove into the footwear and overall athletic apparel battle. You'd probably have to check with people like CNBC's Darren Rovell (Twitter: @darrenrovell1) or Brian Gainor of www.PartnershipActivation.com (Twitter: @briangainor).
My .02 cents: Nike is still the king of sports apparel and footwear since Under Armour truly only goes head-to-head in football, lacrosse, softball, and a few other olympic sports contested on the high school level. Nike largely runs unopposed in basketball, golf, track & field, and a few others.
With that said, it is a testament to Under Armour's tremendous products, sharp marketing, and well-thought-out business plan that they have been able to make up so much ground in a relatively small amount of time.
*Hopefully this is the first installment of these, I welcome comments and feedback on your own Nike/UA product experiences.