This Super Bowl weekend, Under Armour taking grassroots marketing approach

Daily Record Business Writer
January 29, 2009 6:21 PM

When Pittsburgh and Arizona square off Sunday in Super Bowl XLIII, it will be the finale to weeks of anticipation and media coverage, and one Baltimore company is looking to again cash in on the buzz.

After paying big bucks for a Super Bowl television ad last year to announce its cross-trainer shoe — then seeing its share price fall partly in response — Under Armour is taking a grassroots approach this year in Tampa to marketing its new running shoe on the sporting world’s biggest stage.

The athletic apparel company’s senior vice president for brand, Steve Battista, said a television ad this year just didn’t fit into the strategy for the shoe’s launch Saturday.

“Remember last year, no one had ever even seen what Under Armour [non-cleated] footwear looked like,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The Super Bowl is great for that.”

Instead, Under Armour sent a team of salespeople and athletes to market the new product at the NFL Experience — the Super Bowl’s fanfest at Raymond James Stadium — through activities and athlete demonstrations. Visitors can test out the new shoe in a 40-yard dash and in training sessions, or browse Under Armour’s retail section which will include the new shoes on Saturday.

The Ravens’ Troy Smith, the Redskins’ Santana Moss and the 49ers’ Vernon Davis (a University of Maryland alum) will be among the handful of athletes at in-store promotions and autograph signings on launch day in Tampa. Moss, along with the Bears’ Devin Hester and the Giants’ Brandon Jacobs, will promote the product on local and national media outlets, and Under Armour will give away 10 Super Bowl tickets at Tampa-area stores.

Elsewhere, specialty partner Fleet Feet will host an event in Chicago beginning at 11 p.m. Friday — one hour before the launch day — where customers can test shoes on a late-night run and opt to buy the shoes after midnight. Under Armour is also running an event at Hibbett Sporting Goods in Atlanta with Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur, whom the company sponsors, as a continuation of a promotion there during the football season.

No launch events were planned for the Baltimore area because local marketing staff and athletes will be in Tampa to focus on the Super Bowl this weekend, according to Under Armour’s communications staff. Future events at the specialty stores in Bethesda and Annapolis are possible.

The guerilla approach is a stark contrast to the dramatic, 60-second spot the company bought for last year’s Super Bowl, but far less controversial. Although last year’s game, in which the New York Giants upset the New England Patriots, did end up being the most-watched NFL championship in history, the Fox Network’s base rates were a then-record $2.7 million for a 30-second ad. When Under Armour announced it was springing for a spot worth $5.4 million — its first Super Bowl ad purchase — analysts questioned the decision, prompting a 33 percent dip in the company’s stock last January.

Click here to access rest of story from TDR or e-mail author for full text.