More than a week after Under Armour chief executive Kevin Plank went on CNBC and praised President Trump as "a real asset for this country," sparking criticism from celebrity endorsers, the sports apparel company is still playing defense.
In its latest move, the Baltimore-based firm took out a full-page ad in the form of an open letter from Plank in its local newspaper Wednesday. He does not mention Trump directly, but opens the Baltimore Sun ad by saying, "I answered a question with a choice of words that did not accurately reflect my intent," and then went on to describe the company's values and beliefs, naming diversity, entrepreneurship and job creation.
In the ad, Plank also said the company is publicly opposing Trump's travel ban: "With an anticipated new executive order on immigration set to come out, we will join a coalition of companies in opposition to any new actions that negatively impact our team, their families or our community."
The ad was published the same day one analyst downgraded Under Armour's stock over concerns about Plank's comments. In a research note to investor clients, Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Sam Poser wrote that the "pointed response by Stephen Curry, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Misty Copeland make it nearly impossible to effectively build a cool urban lifestyle brand in the foreseeable future."
Poser, who lowered its price target on the stock and rating from "neutral" to "negative," compared the flap to the risks Lululemon faced after its founder made insensitive comments about women's bodies.
"Regardless of CEO Plank's political views or whether his comment was meant to be a Trump endorsement or a general opinion, we believe the decision to express a view in today's highly charged political climate was a mistake," he said. "In this case, perception is reality." (An Under Armour spokesperson did not respond to emails about the analyst's downgrade.)
Sports apparel companies are particularly susceptible to political comments, particularly in such a hyper-politicized environment, because of the prominence of their logos on clothing, said Anthony Johndrow, who heads up a New York-based reputation advisory firm.
"It's a lot about identity, personal identity," he said. When you wear it, "you're saying something about who you are. You have to take that into account when you buy it."
The company's latest effort to move past the comments follows a public statement the company issued last Friday, in which Plank advocated for free trade and expressed his support for inclusive immigration. That statement followed a trio of high-profile celebrity athletes who endorse Under Armour's products but came out against comments Plank made in the CNBC interview, in which he called Trump "bold" and "decisive" and said, "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."
That led Curry, the Golden State Warriors point guard, to tell an interviewer on Feb. 8 that he agreed with Plank's description of Trump as an "asset" -- but only "if you remove the 'et.' " On Feb. 9, Johnson called Plank's words "divisive and lacking in perspective" in a Facebook post. That same day, Copeland, an American Ballet Theater star featured in Under Armour ads, said on Instagram, "I have spoken at length with Kevin privately about the matter, but as someone who takes my responsibility as a role model very seriously, it is important to me that he, and UA, take public action to clearly communicate and reflect our common values."
Bruce Haynes, president of Purple Strategies, a bipartisan consultancy focused on corporate reputation and politics, said the story has stuck around longer than others because it "sits at the intersection of politics and culture. When a sports figure becomes engaged, it takes the story to an entirely different level."
Plank's original comments came in a CNBC interview in which he was defending the company's performance. In its most recent quarterly earnings report, the company reported a significant slow-down in its sales, predicted slower revenue growth in 2017, and announced a leadership shake-up in its senior ranks. The stock tumbled 25 percent on the news.