Kevin Plank, now former Under Armor CEO, during a CNBC interview on Mad Money on February 28, 2018.
Scott Mlyn | CNBC
Under Armor Founder Kevin Plank forged an unusual relationship with TV presenter Stephanie Ruhle that included travel in his private jet, access to confidential company information and a secret phone reserved only for their communications, court filings show.
The filings, filed last week in connection with a shareholder lawsuit the sportswear company is facing in federal court in Maryland, show that Ruhle, who was then a Bloomberg reporter, advised the company when it… faced negative reporting. Ruhle is now the night anchor for MSNBC. The relationship between Plank and Ruhle was already discussed in the media in 2019.
When Morgan Stanley released a research report in January 2016 downgrading Under Armor stock and lowering its target price, Ruhle asked the apparel company's executives for data that contradicted the report — and then recommended that they leak it to media outlets like CNBC send.
In an email to one of Under Armor's former communications managers, Diane Pelkey, who now Chewy's Communications chief Ruhle asked for “official” numbers, then suggested Pelkey would “do the rounds” with the data points.
“[T]Its content is perfect in case someone decides to cover the Morgan [Stanley] Thing – it combats any risk of negativity,” Ruhle wrote in the email, according to the documents.
Pelkey replied, “I agree… I will be spreading positive messages. Thanks!” according to the documents.
That afternoon, Ruhle questioned Morgan Stanley's report on Bloomberg's show, citing data points Plank had collected.
A few weeks later, when Under Armor was reporting positive quarterly results, Plank emailed Ruhle, “Look at this stock!!!” And then she helped her get an interview with the basketball player and Under Armor athlete the next day Arranging Stephen Curry, records show.
Plank, current Under Armor CEO, asked Pelkey to help organize the interview with Curry.
Plank later told her in an email that the Curry interview was a “huge thank you” to Ruhle “for being the only media person to get UAs back.” [Morgan Stanley] came up against us.
The files raise a variety of ethical questions about both Plank and Ruhle and the line reporters must maintain between the powerful people they cover.
The two were both terminated earlier this year in connection with a shareholder lawsuit filed in 2017 alleging that Under Armor artificially inflated its stock price, thereby causing cash losses.
When questioned during testimony on the Morgan Stanley report, Plank said the two “had an understanding of trust.”
“She didn't trade in it, her family didn't trade in it. She's just giving me input,” Plank said, adding that this was done during the company's dormant period.
He also referred to her as “confidants” and “someone I get advice from.”
“I would give her advice on her career and she would give me advice on things that I was involved with that were either banking, the media, or human nature,” Plank said of their relationship.
For her part, Ruhle admitted in the statement that she flew on Plank's private jet at least twice — once from Cannes, France, to New York and another time from New York to Baltimore.
“We were friends,” Ruhle said. “And I covered his company.”
When asked if flying the jet was part of her job as a Bloomberg reporter or as a friend, Ruhle replied, “I flew in his plane as myself, Stephanie Ruhle. I belong – I don't really belong to any category. One way or the other.”
In her statement, Ruhle also admitted that at one point during her relationship with Plank, she had three phones — a work phone, a home phone, and a “Kevin Plank phone” that was used for her communications.
A spokesman for Under Armor said the filings had “no impact” on the underlying shareholder lawsuit.
“Plaintiffs and their attorneys have obvious financial incentives to cast these documents in the most negative light. As we have already established, Mr. Plank has sought confidential advice or advice from a number of outside consultants in different fields and that is what concerns them.” “Documents show,” said the spokesman. “Furthermore, none of the information was misused.”
Regarding the shareholder lawsuit, the spokesman said the claims were “unfounded” and were “vigorously defended.”
MSNBC, which is not named in the lawsuit and did not employ Ruhle at the time, declined to comment on the matter. Ruhle and Bloomberg did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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