Gabey Goh
May 6, 2016

Under Armour mixes it up with One Championship in Southeast Asia

SINGAPORE - As sports label Under Armour kicks off a strategic Southeast Asia partnership with One Championship at a mixed-martial-arts event tonight in Singapore, chief marketing officer Adrian Chai talks to Campaign about the brand’s approach to the region.

L-R: Adrian Chai, Victor Cui
L-R: Adrian Chai, Victor Cui

Triple, the exclusive distributor for the US-based sports label, launched the first two Southeast Asian Under Armour brand houses, in Singapore and the Philippines, in May 2014.

“Today there are a total of 18 new brand houses in Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia,” Chai told Campaign Asia-Pacific. “An omni-channel distribution including e-commerce is currently served out of Singapore across the Asean region.”

The brand's marketing philosophy is to inspire athletes and fitness enthusiasts everywhere to pursue their goals in sports and fitness.

“And most importantly, to constantly challenge themselves to perform better,” Chai added. “Just as how the brand comes from a standpoint of competition as an underdog and the relentless pursuit of innovation.”

Chai said the brand is consistent in its message of how sustained effort is what makes the difference for elite athletes. Under Armour wants to be the brand to “show you how to do it.” The brand’s taglines are 'I will' for all athletes and 'I will what I want' specifically for empowering women.

“For example, look at how [NBA star] Stephen Curry and [pro golfer] Jordan Spieth's drive has made them who they are today, and in so doing, brought the brand’s vision to life along with them,” Chai said.

Under Armour’s 'underdog' status and rise have been well documented, ever since the company began selling footwear products in 2006.

Of late, it has been enjoying an accelerated upward trajectory, thanks to its stable of celebrity endorsements, most notably Curry and Spieth, which have helped the brand record a 30 percent jump, led by strong growth overseas.

It was regarded as a major marketing coup  when Nike allowed Curry to leave for Under Armour in 2013, and the player's otherworldly performance in the most recent NBA season also helped the brand. Recently, Under Armour's popularity also led to some 'sincere flattery' from a Chinese brand calling itself 'Uncle Martian'.

Under Armour's current trajectory has it expecting 2016 sales to rise 26 percent to US$5 billion worldwide.

Globally the brand is now executing its ‘Rule yourself’ campaign, done by New York creative agency Droga5, with the tagline 'It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light'.

Chai shared that in Southeast Asia, the company works mainly with PR agencies for outreach but has boutique agencies that help with some content, social and media needs.

“These are mainly in-country agencies that help propel localised content and reach consumers,” he said, declining to share how much is spent on marketing annually.

The marketing mix

Chai said the brand spreads its efforts across all media with an almost equal split between traditional media and online media. Dependent on market, it also spends on strategic out-of-home advertising.

“We work closely with social-media influencers in the region, and also invest in events that help us build an Under Armour fitness community,” Chai said. “We are also working with partners such as gyms and wellness collectives to hold weekly complimentary workout sessions for the public for the second year running now in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.”

The brand is also in the midst of its first-ever Southeast Asia-wide fitness challenge competition, called the Test of Will. National heats were held in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, and finalists will be flown to Singapore for the finals on 28 May at Gardens by the Bay.

“These Under Armour-centric events are more aligned to the core of the brand, which surrounds training for all disciplines, versus focused only on a specific sport or category,” said Chai.

He added that the brand’s core focuses are running and training, but that doesn’t limit the types of athletes endorsed, such as swimmer Michael Phelps and ballerina Misty Copeland.

“They are usually seen in their final environments, such as in the pool or on stage,” said Chai. “They however embody the core training that is required of them as athletes, versus being a swimmer or a ballerina.”

While the brand regionally is still latched onto the global athletes, in Southeast Asia, it also works with and supports key athletes in each country. The list includes MMA fighter Peter Davies (Malaysia), golfer Nicholas Fung (Malaysia), triathlete and actor Piolo Pascual (Philippines), volleyballer Gretchen Ho (Philippines), basketball player Chase Tan (Singapore), and tennis player Sarah Pang (Singapore).

“We will continue to assess the strengths and future abilities of all athletes and select the ones with the Will and determination to succeed,” said Chai.

One with the region

Under the agreement with One Championship, the sports brand will become an official partner in SEA for the Singapore-based mixed MMA promotion’s events in 2016. The deal encompasses on-site branding and various engagement platforms.

Launched in 2011, One Championship is considered Asia's largest sports-media property, with a global broadcast to over 1 billion homes in 75 countries.

The partnership is expected to elevate the presence of both brands in a few of their shared target markets in SEA, namely Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.

In a statement, One CEO Victor Cui said that as a sport, MMA in Southeast Asia is “definitely progressing to the next level”.

“It is truly a privilege to have the support of a strong global brand like Under Armour,” he added. “And we are confident that this partnership will path [sic] the way to discover even more promising young athletes.”

Chai admitted that the brand’s sponsorships for events are quite minimal, the deal with One Championship being its only such tie-up in Southeast Asia.

“We are excited to be supporting this rising sport, and we hope that athletes like One fighters, who truly embody Under Armour’s values of never giving up to reach greatness and overcoming perceived limitations, will inspire young athletes internationally to achieve their goals,” he added.

Upcoming events this year in relation to the Under Armour and One partnership include events in Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The first event where the partnership will take effect will be One: Ascent To Power, in Singapore tonight. The main event will see the biggest female fight in Asian history, with rising superstar Angela Lee fighting to become Singapore's first MMA world champion when she faces veteran Mei Yamaguchi for the inaugural One Women’s Atomweight World title.

Future focus

Asked about challenges to the brand’s growth ambitions, Chai pointed to the current global and regional economic climate and its influence on consumer spending in the region.

“Currency pressures also affect retail across international brands, as our products are 100 percent imported from the warehouses of Global Under Armour versus being manufactured regionally,” he said.

Continuing the brand's momentum requires the establishment and growth of a strong team to meet the demands of consumers and “to ensure that all athletes and consumers are served adequately and are able to benefit from the latest technologies and products”, he added.

The marketing team will continue to focus on the core training category and empowering athletes he said.

“We will definitely not be neglecting on our global push to empower women athletes and also to establish ourselves in the running scene,” Chai said. “Hopefully we will be able to allow athletes in the region to try out the latest technological benefits of all our apparel, footwear and accessories.”


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