Under Armor to Buy MapMyFitness: What Does it Mean for Sports Technology?

MapMyFitness is now part of Under Armor

On November 14th, sports apparel brand, Under Armor, announced its acquisition of MapMyFitness.  Based in Austin, Texas, MapMyFitness is a digital technology company that is currently operating one of the largest online fitness communities.  The company supports these communities through website, social media, and mobile applications.  Lead by its flagship applications of MapMyRun, MapMyRide, and MapMyWalk, MapMyFitness has reached over 20 million registered users.  Moreover, the company counts 9 million users active monthly and 700,000 users active daily.  The app offers users the ability to map, record, and share their exercise routes and workouts.  Additionally, users have access to a database of over 80 million global routes and additional fitness and nutrition tools.  At 83 million installs between iOS and Android, MapMyFitness ranks among the top five in sports and fitness app developers.  The company is only projected to grow with 200,000 new users signing up each week.

So what does this mean for Under Armor?  Firstly, this move places Under Armor in a much more competitive position in terms of fitness technology.  Competitors Nike, Adidas, Jawbone, and FitBit have already rolled out branded wearable technology, devices with sensors, companion apps, and, in some cases, social media integration.  Nike in particular has seen success with its Nike+ social platform and FuelBand fitness tracker.  The acquisition of MapMyFitness provides Under Armor with the user base and expertise to get on top of this growing market.  “Athlete biometric measurement is a new business we’re just getting behind,” said Under Armor CEO Kevin Plank in an interview with Forbes.

The sales of wearable fitness technology is current a fairly niche market, but it is rapidly expanding.  This year, the sales of fitness devices, apps, and services are expected to reach $1.6 billion.  According to market research firm Gartner, these sales are expected to triple to over $5 billion by 2016.  The industry is moving toward wearable devices with range sensors, biometric monitoring, and cross platform integration.  MapMyFitness provides Under Armor with the cross platform communities, as well as the ability to integrate range sensors and biometric monitoring into the current app.  It will be interesting to see how Under Armor chooses to connect the dots between its apparel and the MapMyFitness app.


Infographic: The State of Digital Marketing in Sports

Infographic: The State of Digital Marketing in Sports

This very nice inforgaphic comes from ECAL, an online calendar marketing system.  The inforgaphic does a great job summing up some of the key trends, challenges, and opportunities of marketing sports in a digital world.  A couple of key points to pull out of the infographic are the fact that social media space is highly fragmented, thus interconnectedness is important; sports and entertainment are merging, so community-based marketing initiatives are key; and that purchase decisions have become quicker and put a higher emphasis on recommendations from friends and blogs.  The number that really stood out to me were that the average smartphone user checks their phone 150 times a day.

Fanatics App Review: Why it’s Worth a Look for Sports Fans.

Screenshot_2013-11-13-21-58-41  Screenshot_2013-11-13-21-59-58

Who is Fanatics? Well, if you have ever purchased sports merchandise online, chances are that you’re already a Fanatics customer – knowingly or otherwise.  Fanatics, Inc. is a venture-funded company out of Jacksonville, Florida.  It sells a full assortment of officially licensed apparel and accessories from every major American sports league.  More impressively, Fanatics operates the official online stores for the NFL, NCAA, NBA, NHL, MLB, NASCAR, PGA, and UFC in addition to the digital shops for over 200 individual teams.  The company is set to make roughly $1 billion in sales this year with about two thirds coming from league/team sites and the other third coming from Fanatics’ own branded sites.  In an effort to build greater awareness for their brand, Fanatics hired former Groupon Mobile Head, David Katz, to lead the company in developing a smartphone app for iPhone and Android.  The app, which hit its respective this past Friday, promised to be a simple and effective one-stop-shop for sports merchandise on the go.

I downloaded the free copy of the app from the Google Play Store shortly after launch.  After a quick download, I booted up the app and upon entering I was prompted to input my first name, last name, email, and a password.  Submitting this information created my Fanatics Rewards Account (also usable on the Fanatics website) and entitled me to Fanatics’ Free 3-Day Shipping and Fan Cash rewards program.

After moving past the login, I was introduced to the app’s homescreen (pictured above).  The homescreen features a slidable top banner image.  Below, five horizontal buttons allow users to browse gear from corresponding major league.  Upon clicking one of the buttons, the app provides an alphabetical list of the teams in the league.  Clicking the team name takes the user to that team’s merchandise, while clicking the empty star next to the team name saves that team as a favorite.

Browsing on the app is simple and intuitive.  Within team sections, merchandise is broken into a list of categories, ranging from broad labels like, “Mens”, to specific goods, like watches, clocks, and pet supplies.  Clicking on a specific category produces a list of products complete with images and prices (also pictured above).  Going deeper into the product offers a larger image, description, and product specifications.  Throughout the application, loading is crisp and painless.

Each page features the minimalist menu bar across the top.  On the right side of the menu bar, icons allow the user to search and view their cart.  On the left side, users can click the Fanatics logo to access a dropdown menu with more options.  The dropdown gives the user many different options, including browsing merchandise for other sports, adding favorite teams, managing their account, reading the FAQ, and calling customer service.

This app does what it set out to do without trying to reinvent the wheel.  Though I would like to see customer review integration, this app still provides a shopping experience very comparable to Amazon.com and other leading online retailers – all from the palm of your hand.  For sports merchandise, the app’s selection and accessibility are unbeatable.  Fanatics’ pricing is very competitive and the 3-Day shipping, rewards program, and return policy help to put them over the edge.

Final Verdict: 9/10 

Parity in the NFL is Nothing to Complain About

Yesterday, Dan Graziano of ESPN wrote an article entitled, NFC East is a sign of NFL going south, in which he lambasted both NFC East and the NFL as a whole.  Graziano says in his article, “You don’t have to be all that good to be champion.”  He cites the regular season records of the three previous Super Bowl Champions – 10-6, 9-7, and 10-6 respectively – in support of his case.  He gripes that a team will likely win the NFC East this year with a record around 8-8, claiming none in the division deserve a chance to win a title.  Graziano dismisses Super Bowl runs as a simple three or four game hot streak away.  Thus, he claims, the NFL system does not entice teams to play hard for all sixteen games.  He blames this among factors for reduced quality of play and “unwatchable” games in the NFL.

I respectfully disagree with almost everything stated in Graziano’s article.  By his logic, the NFL should have a BCS-like system where only the top two teams even get a chance to play for a championship.  The entire idea behind playoffs is to make the top teams earn a championship, rather than have it gifted to them for their regular season performance.  The NFL rewards the top teams with a bye week for their regular season standing (which may or may not be a boon, but that’s another issue).  Yes, the past three Super Bowl Champions had modest regular season records, but counting the playoffs, each team finished with thirteen or fourteen wins.  Regardless, a three or four game win streak against the league’s top teams is no easy feat.  Winning when it counts is as much a part of being a champion as winning in general.

As for division winners not deserving playoff spots, look no further than Graziano’s own example, the 7-9 Seahawks who made the playoffs as a division winner in 2010.  Thought their record might indicated they did not deserve to make the playoffs, they went on to upset the highly favored Saints.  There is a lot more to teams than their records.  If you want to fully understand a team, you have to look at strength of schedule and quality of wins.  Going 8-8 in the AFC East is a lot different than going 8-8 in the AFC North.  Graziano is right that any team that makes the playoffs has a chance to win a title; however this isn’t a bad thing.  This unpredictability is what makes the NFL so exciting.

Labeling teams as good teams and bad teams, undeserving and deserving, is a highly subjective act.  Teams have star players and strengths, but also faults.  Injuries, staff changes, and rule changes often serve to make faults more glaring.  Blanket judgments based on team records are a vast oversimplification.  In my book, any team that can stay around until January and make the month-and-a-half push absolutely disserves the title of Super Bowl Champion.


NFL International Series: The Past, Present, and Future

Wembley Stadium in London

The final international game of the 2013 NFL season approaches with the Jacksonville Jaguars set to host the San Francisco 49ers on October 27.  This game is the second of the season to take place in London’s Wembley Stadium, coming after the Minnesota Vikings’ Week 4 win over the Pittsburg Steelers.  2013 was the seventh straight year with a game played at Wembley and the first year that more than one game way played overseas.

International games have come a long way in their roughly forty year history.  Following several CFL-NFL games in Canada, the first NFL game outside of North America took place in Tokyo, Japan on August 16, 1973.  In 1983, the NFL played a preseason game at Wembley Stadium.  This was their first game in Europe and was met with sellout crowds.  This interest later transitioned into a series of annual games known as the American Bowls.  Acting as a fifth preseason game, one to four American Bowls were held every season between 1986 and 2003.  The final American bowl was played in 2005.  The NFL cited a change in international strategy as their reason for shutting the program down.  Through the series, the NFL touched down in Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Spain and the United Kingdom.  International games returned in 2007 as the Miami Dolphins hosted the New York Giants at Wembley Stadium in the first regular season game held outside of North America.  From there, the NFL International series has enjoyed continued success and growing support, specifically in London.

London has proven to be highly receptive to the NFL.  In addition to routinely selling out games at Wembley, an estimated 520,000 fans attended a football festival on London’s Regent Street before the Week 4 game. The NFL has already announced its plan to add a third London game in 2014.  London appears to a great jumping-off point for the NFL International Series.  The question is: Where does the NFL go from here?

Recently, the NFL owners have considered London as a future destination for the Super Bowl.  Though most agree a Super Bowl overseas would do wonders to spread the NFL brand, the idea has led to issues both logistically and from a fan-relations standpoint.  Owners and fans have serious concerns about bringing one of America’s premier events to foreign soil.

Another possibility would be to add an NFL Franchise in London.  Officials at Wembley Stadium have voiced their interest in hosting their own team.  The NFL has expressed desire to expand the core fanbase in London, but does not rule out the possibility.  There are questions from a competitive standpoint regarding travel to and from London.  Many feel the London team would gain an additional “home field advantage” due to longer travel times for opponents.  Similarly, the London team would be at a greater disadvantage in their away games.

Football guru Pat Kirwan offers a third possibility in his book, Take Your Eye Off The Ball.  He recommends a 17-game in which each team plays the traditional eight home games and eight away games, as well as a single international game.  Kirwan recommends games rotate around European hubs, though the NFL could also focus on a specific area with weekly games.  The system address concerns by the franchises that one of the teams “loses” a home game by going overseas.  It also scores points with American fans because the same number of games are played within the U.S. and fans get one more opportunity to watch their team play.  On the other hand, the NFL Players Association has consistently opposed adding another game for risk of player injury.

In any event, the NFL International Series has some important decisions to make and it seems that London will be at the center of them.  The logical move for the NFL is to continue their expansion as a global brand; however, they must be careful to do so in a way that does not alienate current fans or disrupt the competitive balance of the game.