Affairs

Kevin Plank sticks to his guns.

BALTIMORE — Facing political backlash for his support of the president, Under Armour chief Kevin Plank has not backed down.

By now, you’re likely aware of his comments, delivered on CNBC earlier this week, that led to a boycotting campaign on Twitter, alongside vocal criticism from media folk, Baltimore public officials, and even Under Armour’s own sponsored athletes. (continued below…)

Here’s the gist of that comment:

“To have such a pro-business president is something that is a real asset for the country. People can really grab that opportunity. . . . He wants to build things. He wants to make bold decisions and be decisive. I’m a big fan of people that operate in the world of ‘publish and iterate’ versus ‘think, think, think, think, think’, so there’s a lot that I respect there.”

Under Armour’s (and by extension, Plank’s) response to the uproar over that ill-fated CNBC segment?

“We have always been committed to developing innovative ways to support and invest in American jobs and manufacturing. For years, Under Armour has had a long-term strategy for domestic manufacturing and we recently launched our first women’s collection made in our hometown of Baltimore, MD. We are incredibly proud of this important first step in the evolution of creating more jobs at home.

We engage in policy, not politics. We believe in advocating for fair trade, an inclusive immigration policy that welcomes the best and the brightest and those seeking opportunity in the great tradition of our country, and tax reform that drives hiring to help create new jobs globally, across America and in Baltimore.

We have teammates from different religions, races, nationalities, genders and sexual orientations; different ages, life experiences and opinions. This is the core of our company. At Under Armour, our diversity is our strength, and we will continue to advocate for policies that Protect Our House, our business, our team, and our community.” (you can read the entire statement here)

Reasoned, but also unwavering — and unapologetic. At best, it shows an ability to parse economic policy from social politics. At worst, the lack of an apology will leave Plank’s critics even more upset. But Plank has been pushing hard to bring manufacturing back to the US for some time (and in a small way is succeeding), so his comments and this statement are still in line with that goal.

Still, there are two sides to this coin. One Lean Luxe subscriber suggested that Under Armour’s base, which, frankly, is more red than blue (and is buoyed by UA’s original “Protect this House” campaign) might be supportive of Plank’s stance. But, this person argued, “it also completely alienates the consumer base where he is trying to grow his brand — think fashion, basketball, both coasts, Foot Locker, boutiques.” In that sense, “Nike/Adidas vs. UA isn’t too far off as a proxy for the blue vs. red political landscape.”

This person also later added: “I’m shocked Plank made those comments and didn’t have the empathy to understand that his comments could be viewed as insulting to his marquee athlete and to his new, intended consumer base.”

So what does Plank and Under Armour have to lose here? Not as much as you might think. Given UA’s core customer set, and using the argument that no brand should aim to be all things to all people, there’s a lot less to lose on Plank’s end than it might seem. His comments have incited a Twitter uproar, sure, and they’ve certainly turned off a few would-be (and current) customers. But perhaps the upside is further galvanizing a base that fewer and fewer companies seem willing to court.

Our take: Plank played a poor chess game, plain and simple. The less any CEO says about anything politics right now, the better. It’s a lose-lose no matter what side you take. Still, taken on their own, and strictly viewing them from a business lens, Plank’s comments weren’t as awful as current hysterics warrant. Tone deaf? You could argue that. Morally abhorrent? That’s a stretch.

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