Hunting dates back to the dawn of time. Somewhere along the line it transformed from an activity of necessity, to survive, to one of sport. Over 16 million people hunt every year. Women make up over 11% of that number. In the last couple of years, Under Armour (UA) has set out to make an impact in that market. To promote the products in their new UAHunt line, top endorsements from popular athletes in the field were retained, including a big push within the women’s hunting segment. The popularity of their sponsored athletes, both men and women, has been evitent by the popular following of their social media sites. Despite it’s popularity, sport hunting is one of the most polarizing activities. It sparks passionate debates that can leave supporting businesses tip toing through social media mine fields, as UA recently discovered.
In June, Josh Bowmar posted a video of himself killing a bear with a spear in Western Canada. Josh’s wife Sarah, a UA sponsored athletic spokesperson, was filming the hunt, and subsequent kill. In response to immediate backlash the video was quickly taken down from its original post, but of course, that did not stop copies from appearing on other sites and quickly becoming viral. On August 18th, UA announced on their Facebook page their decision to sever ties with Sarah.
As expected, with such an emotional subject, the fervor continued, but not from just one side. It has sparked backlash for UA from both the hunting and anti-hunting communities. In a review of 100 random Facebook quotes and comments which contained the hashtag #boycottunderarmour, 84 supported boycott of the company in support of the Bowmars, and 8 supported the boycott as a protest, not only of UA’s support for the Bowmars , but for participation in the hunting industry whatsoever. The remaining 3 simply reposted the bloodied company logo without comment, so it was unclear which side they were supporting. While normally, a larger sample size may have been called for, a quick skim of the page suggested no significant result would result. Whether for or against the Bowmans, the overwhelming majority supported dumping the brand.
The debate has also sparked several online petitions at change.org. Two separate petitions, totaling a combined 11,456 signatures, support the Bowmans. One pledges a ban on UA gear until the company apologies to the Bowmans, while the other demands their return and for UA “to quit cowering to anti-hunters”. Another 8,843 signatures were combined on three hunt opposing petitions. One striking against UA’s support of trophy hunting, declaring it inhumane, and another that also calls for a pledge to not buy UA products until that support ends. And bringing up the rear, is a small petition reaching out to one a major UA distributor drop UA.
The long term impact, if any, may not be apparent until the conclusion of the upcoming hunting season. While a noticeable temporary decline may ensure, UA’s variety of products, both within the hunting segment and outside of it, are broadly diversified. The popularity of their remaining stock of athletes may, as a minimum, allow the company to sustain their position within the overall market. On the upside, at least they backed Michael Phelps and not Brian Lochte, or August could have been a really bad month.