There were a number of standouts in the Athletic Apparel Brand Sector, but it was Under Armour, up +3 points or 4 percent at a very strong 78 media rating that continued its marketing and media trajectory through the February/March media period.

The sector (46 brands) was strong and closed at an average media rating value of 48, with 27 advancing versus 18 declining brands.  The RSI was leading other brand sectors at 0.59 due to the significant advances across the sector.  Overall, the sector is still off its historic high of last July of 52 points, and posting no change over the same February period last year.

Four athletic apparel brands, almost all shoe brands, posted +6 or greater media rating increases for the current media period.  Columbia Sportswear lead gainers up +9 points or 24 percent at 53.    Reebok led the decliners, off -6 points or 12 percent at 68.

The 4-year media rating performance of Under Armour is a media highlight in the sector, propelled in February/March by key athlete and celebrity endorsement deals.  The +9 point increase came from announcements involving Muhammad Ali  and media campaigns with Jamie Foxx (up +2 points or 2 percent at 63) and current NBA MVP candidate Stephen Curry (up +3 points or 6 percent at 55).

The CUME growth of +7 percent is strong with the exception of a soft 2014 due to strong growth outside the Athletic and Outdoor Apparel sector.  It’s important to remember that only two years prior Under Armour was drawing a media rating in the mid-to-low 60’s, about where Skechers and North Face are today.

The brand also moved above the historically strong  Puma, Reebok and New Balance brands to the No. 3 position in the sector.

Operating 3 points above is trailing 12-month average, the Under Armour brand is still running strong versus other competing brand in the sector.  The only downside concerns recent 8-month media momentum metrics, as the brand has not seen positive momentum since May 2014.  Down -10% on momentum this month, the trend is recovering from a stretch of media loss versus gains that took hold last July.

Columbia Sportswear is another strong media story this month.  And looking at the brands 4-year media rating performance its obvious the brand needed the media attention to continue the reversal of a rather steep and troubling media downturn that began in 2012.

February/March media ratings did not disappoint.  Columbia Sportswear is up +9 points or 17 percent at 53, now occupying a moderate rating position in the sector.

Like Under Armour, but this time in a positive direction, media momentum has been strong over the prior 12-month period, signaling a sustainable reversal from the 2-year period of negative media build-up.

The company benefited from amazing media coverage relating to mid-month earnings announcement that surprised and lead the S&P to a new market high.  With some insider executive selling, the brand drew considerable attention from the financial media segment along with VF Corp. the parent of North Face (up +4 points or 7 percent at 65).

While not garnering the same media attention as its earnings report, Columbia Sportswear is pulling more attention to its Sorel outdoor footwear products.

It’s impossible to mention Columbia Sportswear or North Face media coverage without including REI, the long-standing outdoor apparel supplier.  REI was off -8 points or 15% at a 55 media rating.  All those gains across competing sector brands had to come at someone’s expense, and REI was one of them.  Momentum is continuing to escape the brand and it’s surprising the REI has managed to hold its trailing 12-month average media rating of 61.

REI dropped 9 positions relative to other competing brands in the Athletic and outdoor apparel sector and is now ranked No. 17.  The decline over the prior year is not as sharp at -5 positions.

I’ll mention one other outdoor apparel brand thats been making strong media inroads over the prior year.  Patagonia, off -4 points or 7 percent at 54, took a temporary hit in the media while continuing a strong 12+ month run at positive media build-up.

Getting back to the sector leaders, Nike and Adidas continue to fight for the title of leading media brand in the athletic apparel sector.

Nike is up +1 point at 90, consistent and on track for the brand’s long-running sector leadership position.  Along with Adidas, up +2 points or 3 percent at 89, the two brands clearly dominate their brand sector – in terms of absolute media ratings.  Momentum for the two leading brands are still running negative, giving competing brands a good opportunity to gain ground in the sector.

Golf Focus

Nike competes aggressively in almost every sport, but the brand has been particularly dominant in golf. With multiple players under endorsement deals, even the crumbling play of Tiger Woods (off -3 points or 5 percent at 75) has had little effect on Nike’s media visibility (up +1 point at 90).  The $200 million deal with 25 year old Rory McIlroy (up +3 points or 4 percent at 64) is a very smart endorsement bet and the McIlroy brand continues to climb in media prominence within the Male Athlete Brand Sector.

How does a 64 media rating stack-up in across key sport sectors?  McIlroy is ranked #2 amongst professional golfers (just behind Tiger Woods at ) and #16 across our multi-sport professional male athlete sector (342 athletes).  McIlroy is in good company, as Rafael Nadal (up +3 points or 4 percent at 64) and Josh Hamilton (up +2 or 2 percent at 64) acquired the same 64 media rating.

Competing with Nike at the product level are TaylorMade at 46 and Callaway Golf, off -1 point or 3 percent at 46 .  Neither brands are in the same league as Nike, but the compete quite well with the Nike Golf brand, off -2 points or 5 percent at 38.

Across the sector, athlete promotion and endorsements play a critical marketing role, and the media is all too ready to provide the earned media connection between endorsement deals and actual athlete performance – both on and off the field/court.  In golf, media coverage is not just relegated to the men.

Annika Sorenstam, advancing +3 points or 10 percent at 34, is another Nike  endorsement win.  The Sorenstam brand tends to perform much better in traditional media channels (+1 point at 40) versus social media segments (+3 points at 30).  Search volume for Annika Sorenstam is equivalent to the broader social media rating score (no change at 32 points).   Media momentum is improving, but the value is still running negative.  The athlete brand is well off its historic high of 42 points on June 2012.

One storyline in particular helped propel Annika Sorenstam this media cycle.  The Royal and Ancient Golf Club announced its first seven female members on Thursday, including Swedish Annika Sorenstam.  There is also the beginning media embers of Olympic coverage as golf returns to the global venue next year in Rio de Janeiro.

Michelle Wie, off -1 point or 2 percent at 47, is another key endorsement point for Nike, and the sport overall.  Momentum continues to decline, although it remains positive suggesting a continued media rating growth curve.   The brand is just under its 4-year media rating high of 49 points (reached three times over the prior 12-months).  Coverage this media cycle tended to focus on off-season storylines, reflection on the past season and expectations for the big tournaments this year.  Given the brand’s strong media trajectory since 2014, there’s a lot of expectations for continued media improvement.

The Athletic Apparel Sector rarely disappoints, and February/March media ratings were no exception.  The continued performance of Under Armour and the battle between Nike and Adidas for the top media spot continues.  Lululemon has also been prominent in the media again and the outdoor-focused apparel brands are hitting amazing revenue numbers which are drawing plenty of trade and consumer media attention.

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