Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank calls Notre Dame deal a "watershed"

When Under Armour (UA) Chief Executive Kevin Plank recently signed what he called a "watershed" agreement to outfit the Notre Dame football team, it brought back a flood of memories.

"It was 16 years ago that I slept in the locker room at Notre Dame stadium with Georgia Tech in 1997," he said in an interview. "So it was like one of those incredibly cool, 'I can't believe we are here' moments -- from not being able to afford a hotel room and staying in a locker room on game night to now being able to outfit the Irish."

 Shares of Under Armour have more than doubled this year, even as the Baltimore-based company endured a torrent of negative publicity after some U.S. speed skaters blamed a company-designed suit for their poor showing in the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Indeed, U.S. bobsledders did fine in their Under Armour suits, with women capturing silver and bronze medals and men earning a bronze.

Plank, not surprisingly, remains optimistic about the company's potential.

"Under Armour has such an enormous runway in front of it that we are just scratching the surface of what we can do," he said.

Plank believes that women's athletic clothing will one day be a larger market than clothing for men. Today, the women's market is about 30 percent of sales. "When we went public eight years ago, women's was about 15 percent," he said

Many retailers, including Wal-Mart (WMT), struggled during the holiday period. And although other companies may face a tough road ahead, Under Armour isn't particularly worried.

"Under Armour is in a little bit of a bubble," Plank said. "You go back and look at the fourth quarter, a tremendous amount of red in the marketplace, a tremendous amount of discounting, everything marked down. We didn't do that." 

He believes consumers will continue to spend for brands they believe in. Plank says brands need to inspire trust and innovate. "But if you are caught somewhere in the middle," he said, "you're probably in a pretty tough spot."

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.