While Under Armour and Major League Baseball remain mum amid reports that the Baltimore sports brand will be the league’s uniform provider starting in 2020, people familiar with the company say the deal creates a huge opportunity to raise Under Armour’s brand awareness.
Until now, Under Armour’s primary dealings in baseball and professional American sports as a whole, have been through deals with individual athletes, such as Bryce Harper, or around equipment deals such as providing shoes, chest protectors and knee pads.
But uniforms is a whole new ballgame.
“This deal just builds on that in terms of more exposure for the brand in the environment of MLB,” said Auburn Bell, marketing professor at Loyola’s Sellinger School of Business and an expert on Under Armour, sports endorsements and branding.
For Bell, the deal is significant on three fronts: It’s the brand’s first uniform deal with a professional league; it’s taking away market share from Nike; and it will extend branding and marketing opportunities for Under Armour.
“You look at all the exposure MLB gets, that’s going to help extend the awareness of the brand,” said Bell.
Currently, the league’s jerseys are made by Majestic Athletic, and Nike provides the under-layer for the uniforms, making the brand’s “swoosh” logo visible at the neckline. VF, Majestic’s parent company, has had the league’s jersey rights since 2005 while Nike has been with the league since 2009. Those licenses expire after the 2019 season. VF put its Majestic brand up for sale in March, according to Sports Business Daily.
“This deal takes more away from what Nike already has,” said Bell. “It’s taking something from their backyard.”
An MLB spokesman declined comment on reports about the deal. Under Armour did not return a request for comment. The organizations are expected to announce the deal after the World Series.
Under Armour has long been a heavy hitter at the collegiate level, most recently signing the largest deal in the history of college sports with UCLA for $280 million, surpassing Nike’s $252 million deal with Ohio State. As with college sports, uniform deals in professional sports are contract-driven, and Under Armour was able to step up when the contract was up for bid, said Bell.
“As those deals come up, Under Armour is going to be in the game and do what they do to win it. That’s pretty clear to me,” he said about the brand’s ability to secure professional uniform deals in the future.
Under Armour already has a strong presence among professional athletes through endorsement deals. The brand’s endorsement list is includes top athletes across a range of professional sports including Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Michael Phelps, Stephen Curry, Misty Copeland and Jordan Spieth.