By Holden Wilen | Baltimore Business Journal

Under Armour Inc.’s first basketball sneaker designed specifically for women hit shelves in September as the sportswear maker looks to make inroads in multiple key areas aimed to drive future growth.

Baltimore-based Under Armour unveiled its UA HOVR Breakthru Sept. 15. The shoe, in the works since last fall, will be available exclusively at Dick’s Sporting Goods stores, Under Armour brand houses in Boston and Chicago, and online. Under Armour launched its first line of basketball footwear for men in 2010.

The HOVR Breakthru will be sold for $110 per pair and available in seven different color combinations. Its design takes into account several factors that make women’s feet different from men’s, such as a typically narrower heel, shorter ankle height and a smaller instep circumference. While more flexible, women’s feet also have more sensory receptors, according to Under Armour. The shoes also have the soft foam cushioning featured in other shoes in Under Armour’s HOVR line.

WNBA rookie stars Kaila Charles, Bella Alarie and Tyasha “Ty” Harris wore the shoes during the league’s most recent season. Charles, of the Connecticut Sun, and Alarie and Harris, of the Dallas Wings, signed endorsement deals with Under Armour in July and will continue to provide the company with feedback about the shoes.

Women played a leadership role in the creation of the shoe. Sasha Chaplin, an associate product line manager and former college basketball player, helped conduct a number of wear tests with local high school and college programs, including St. Frances Academy and UMBC.

Shaneika Warden, a senior color design manager, and Jessie Benjamin, a senior footwear designer, also played key roles in the shoe’s development.

Kevin Plank, Under Armour’s founder and executive chairman, and CEO Patrik Frisk have both said footwear and women’s products will be key to a turnaround for the company. After years of surging sales, Under Armour has stumbled since the fourth quarter of 2016 amid a decline in demand for its footwear and apparel in North America.

The company has also suffered this year due to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under Armour’s footwear sales decreased 35 percent to $185 million in the second quarter of 2020. The company’s overall sales fell 41 percent, and Under Armour reported a $183 million loss. The company did not report its sales for women’s products, but Frisk said in a call with analysts that Under Armour “saw strong demand in the [second] quarter for a number of women’s products.”

The women’s basketball market makes up just 1 percent of the total basketball market, said Matt Powell, a sports retail analyst for NPD Group. He said the women’s basketball business is “shamefully small” because it has been underserved by all athletic brands.

“I think the women’s athletic segment remains the greatest growth opportunity for the industry,” said Powell, adding he thinks it’s “great” that Under Armour is making a play.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Under Armour

Issue 265: October/November 2020

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