Three weeks ago, though, Sports Authority decided to liquidate instead of restructure; a spokesperson told Racked it was "pursuing a sale of some or all of the business." On Monday, the sports giant began auctioning off its assets. The winning bid belonged to a trio of liquidators (Hilco Global, Gordon Brothers, and Tiger Capital Group; Tiger Capital is also liquidating 41 Aéropostale stores in Canada), which will operate the company's going-out-of-business sales at all of its locations. ... Sports Authority isn't alone. Last month, Vestis Retail Group, the parent company of Eastern Mountain Sports, Bob's Stores, and Sport Chalet, filed for bankruptcy. With $500 million in liabilities, the company plans to close 56 stores, including all 47 Sport Chalet locations. Six months ago, the East Coast-based City Sports filed for bankruptcy and closed eight of its 26 stores. Although City Sports is currently being revived by Brent and Blake Sonnek-Schmelz, brothers who own the Soccer Post retail chain ... From the rise of the casual camper to the boutique fitness boom, it can feel like there have never been more people in the market for sports apparel. As of 2015, sporting goods stores in the US were bringing in as much as $48 billion in annual revenue, according to IBISWorld, up from $39.8 billion in 2012. Sports participation is up, too. According to Euromonitor, participation in high school sports has increased from 25 percent to 35 percent over the last 35 years, with nearly double the number of female students playing sports as compared to the 1980s. ... But there's a stark gap between an increasing customer base and many sports retailers — a gap that only continues to widen, no matter how many times companies see new ownership or rethink their businesses.
An underdog ethic is still baked into company lore, even though last year Under Armour overtook Adidas to become the second-biggest sportswear brand in the U.S. In May, the company signed the largest sponsorship deal in the history of college sports, paying $280 million for a 15-year contract with UCLA. The company has invested more than $700 million in fitness apps and activity-tracking technology, and it hired the designer Tim Coppens, a ready-to-wear rising star, to help snag a portion of the lucrative “athleisure” market. ... These days, Under Armour looks like an underdog only when held up against Nike, a company that Plank and other executives refuse to even name. “Five years ago, our largest competitor was 12 times our size,” Plank says. “Then it was 11 times, then 10 times. Today, they’re roughly six times our size. But the fact is, they’re still six times our size. So we have a lot of work to do.” He clearly relishes the idea of the world’s biggest sportswear company feeling Under Armour breathing down its neck. ... Plank’s appreciation for the overlooked and underestimated—he’s the youngest of five brothers—is manifest in his affection for Baltimore. On the surface, there may not seem to be much linking the edgy, gritty city of John Waters and The Wire with Under Armour’s performance-bro aesthetic. But Plank sees an affinity between Baltimore’s hardworking, blue-collar past and his company’s relentless striving to be the best sportswear company out there.