2013
11.15

Who knew Under Armour would be a company to watch in the world of M2M and IoT (Internet of Things)? Actually, anyone watching the market closely; or anyone who knows a thing or two about CEO Kevin Plank, for that matter.

This week the sports apparel company announced it will acquire MapMyFitness, the fitness technology company that uses GPS and other technologies to allow users to map, record, and share their workouts. While this news is making headlines today, it isn’t the sole reason I say Under Armour is a company to watch in tech. 

First a bit of context: I love the NFL. But sadly it looks as if this game is slowly dying from the inside out. And if something doesn’t change very soon, our Sunday afternoons between September and February might never look the same. Players today are bigger, stronger, faster; a trend that will only accelerate as we move forward.

The NFL has taken much heat for what some perceive as a lack of action in helping protect the future well being of its greatest commodity—its players. True, the league just spent millions of dollars settling with former players related to concussions. But some see such a move as being more reactionary than precautionary.

In my opinion, if the league truly wants the world to realize it is taking player safety seriously it would embrace the notion of connected technology.
With that in mind, though, I believe this season can be truly monumental for the NFL, and it has nothing to do with what is going on in the field. Never before has news of technology been as intertwined into the fabric of this game as right now.

Earlier this month the NFL announced it was ending an exclusivity agreement with helmet maker Riddell that had been in place since 1989. Beginning with the 2014-15 season players are now allowed to display the name of any company on their helmet, whereas in the past only those with Riddell were granted visibility by the league. The timing of the announcement came just a few days after an event where Riddell officially announced its InSite head-impacting monitoring system. At the event in New York, which our columnist Tim Lindner had the pleasure of attending, Riddell debuted the system that include sensors that monitor and record significant head impacts sustained by the player wearing it, and alert staff to events and even monitor trends.

So here you have a league that just spent millions of dollars settling with former players related to concussions, cutting ties with a company that just announced some breakthrough technology targeted at this matter. Some might question that move.

However, now enter Under Armour. Back in October the company made an announcement with the NFL and GE, forming the Head Health Challenge II, which is an open innovation challenge to award up to $10 million for new innovations and materials that can protect the brain from traumatic injury and for new tools for tracking head impacts in realtime.

Specific focuses of the pact includes technology that demonstrates clear potential to quantify head impact in realtime; detect, track, or monitor biologic or physiological indicators of traumatic brain injury; protect the brain from traumatic injury; mitigate or prevent short or long-term consequences of brain trauma; assist in training to prevent traumatic brain injury.

Among the ideas being discussed are things like the monitoring and integration of directional and rotational impact force into data, systems that monitor biomechanical and physiological responses to detect injury and quantify head impact exposures and that can collect, interpret, and organize large quantities of data in realtime.

So while some might view the fact that the NFL cut exclusive ties with Riddell to be questionable, I think there might be something bigger at play here. Under Armour has the attention of the fan—and even many players for that matter. Everyone from pro athletes to weekend warriors sport the company’s apparel. Plank, who started the company from his grandmother’s basement, has positioned his company well to challenge the big dogs in the sports-apparel market, and has boldly predicted big revenue growth going forward.

While some might scoff at such bold predictions, I think you need to watch out for this company. Who says that growth will come strictly from apparel? Plank is a man who repeatedly talks about the importance of “brand” over “product” and if you look closely you can see him slowly transforming his apparel company into branded technology company.

Look no further than its wearable technology Armour39 performance heart-rate monitor for professional athletes or the fact it operates the Under Armour Innovation Center encouraging next-generation product development, which may or may not include a line of shirts embedded with technology to help cool down the body (a cool long-standing rumor associated with the company).

I talk a lot about the idea of making wearables worth it—designing products with a purpose that people will want to wear. No one can seem to resist the familiar ‘U/A’ associated with Under Armour. And if Plank can take that brand appeal and turn it into an opportunity to improve player safety, he may have just secured his place in the market (sports, technology, apparel, you name it) for years to come. Perhaps the NFL agrees.

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