The founder of Under Armour, Kevin Plank, cultivated an extraordinary rapport with Stephanie Ruhle, a television anchor. This exceptional relationship encompassed voyages aboard his exclusive aircraft, divulgence of sensitive corporate details, and an exclusive phone dedicated solely to their correspondence, according to legal records.
These records, submitted recently in connection with a legal suit filed by shareholders against the sportswear conglomerate in a federal court in Maryland, underscore that Ruhle, a former Bloomberg correspondent, provided guidance to the company during periods of unfavorable coverage. Ruhle currently occupies the role of a late-night anchor on MSNBC. This affiliation between Plank and Ruhle had previously garnered attention in media coverage during the year 2019.
In January of 2016, when Morgan Stanley disseminated a research assessment that devalued Under Armour’s shares and revised its target price, Ruhle solicited data from the sportswear enterprise’s executives that would challenge the findings of the report. She then suggested that this data be communicated to media platforms such as CNBC.
In an electronic message addressed to Diane Pelkey, a former communications executive at Under Armour who presently serves as the head of communications for Chewy, Ruhle requested “official” figures and subsequently advised Pelkey to disseminate this information widely.
“[T]his content is perfect just in case anyone decides to cover the Morgan [Stanley] thing – it combats any risk of negativity,” Ruhle conveyed in the email, as per the filed records.
Pelkey responded, affirming, “Agree… Will push positive messages out. Thanks!” in accordance with the records.
Later that day, Ruhle questioned the accuracy of the Morgan Stanley report during her broadcast on Bloomberg, referencing data points that Plank had compiled.
A couple of weeks thereafter, following Under Armour’s announcement of favorable quarterly outcomes, Plank dispatched an email to Ruhle exclaiming, “look at that stock!!!” He then proceeded to assist her in arranging an interview with Stephen Curry, a prominent basketball player and Under Armour athlete, the ensuing day, as substantiated by the records.
Plank, who currently holds the role of executive chairman at Under Armour, requested Pelkey’s assistance in coordinating the interview with Curry.
Subsequent to the interview, Plank conveyed his gratitude to Ruhle in an email, characterizing the interaction with Curry as “a great thank you” to her “for being the only member of media to get UA’s back when [Morgan Stanley] came out against us.”
‘We were friends’
The submitted documents instigate a plethora of ethical inquiries concerning both Plank and Ruhle, particularly regarding the boundaries that journalists must uphold when reporting on influential individuals.
Earlier this year, both individuals were subjected to questioning in relation to a shareholder lawsuit filed in 2017, alleging that Under Armour artificially inflated its stock price, resulting in financial losses for the shareholders.
During his deposition, when queried about the Morgan Stanley report, Plank elucidated that the two of them shared a foundation of trust.
“She didn’t engage in trading regarding this matter, her family refrained from such activities as well. She simply offered me insights,” Plank asserted, adding that this transpired during a period of corporate quietude.
Plank further alluded to Ruhle as a “confidant” and as someone from whom he sought counsel.
“I provided her with advice concerning her career, and in return, she furnished me with guidance pertaining to matters involving banking, media, and human nature,” Plank expounded on their rapport.
Ruhle, in her deposition, acknowledged having undertaken journeys aboard Plank’s private aircraft on at least two occasions – one spanning from Cannes, France, to New York, and another from New York to Baltimore.
“We shared a friendship,” Ruhle affirmed. “And I reported on his enterprise.”
When confronted with the nature of the flights, Ruhle clarified, “I was traveling on his plane as myself, Stephanie Ruhle. I don’t neatly fit into a specific category.”
Additionally, Ruhle acknowledged possessing three phones during her association with Plank – a professional phone, a personal phone, and a “Kevin Plank phone” utilized exclusively for their exchanges.