BATTER UP

Under Armour is sponsoring Major League Baseball as it gains on sportswear giants Nike and Adidas

Obsession
Business of Sport
Obsession
Business of Sport

Under Armour is out to prove it’s playing in the big leagues. The Baltimore-based sporting goods company announced today that it has entered into a 10-year deal with Major League Baseball to be its official uniform provider, beginning in the 2020 season.

The partnership is the company’s first-ever professional league uniform deal (terms of which were not disclosed), and it’s a big one for Under Armour. It’s debatable how lucrative it will ultimately prove, given that baseball is currently struggling to attract a younger audience in the US. But it shows that Under Armour can play on the same field as its more-established rivals, Nike and Adidas.

Under Armour has taken off since Kevin Plank founded the company in 1996, starting with just a single sweat-wicking undershirt for athletes. It has steadily expanded despite the stiff competition, and enlisted global superstars such as Stephen Curry and Michael Phelps to help it build its brand. Beginning in early 2015, it even overtook Adidas for more than a year as the number two sportswear company behind Nike in the US, though Adidas reclaimed the position in October.

Recently the company has been taking further steps to portray itself as a sportswear powerhouse on Nike’s and Adidas’ level. In July, for instance, it announced it would take over the former FAO Schwarz space on 5th Avenue in New York. It’s a roughly 53,000-square-foot space on the most expensive retail strip in the world.

“The reason that we did that store was a lot of things,” Plank later explained at WWD’s Apparel & Retail CEO Summit in October. “First of all was to put a flag out there. You have to build product for the biggest and the best.”

The deal with MLB shows Under Armour planting another flag—one that could help raise its visibility. Admittedly, baseball, for various reasons, doesn’t have the television audience it once did, and doesn’t sell sneakers the way basketball does (though Under Armour does the bulk of its sales in apparel anyway). It’s not likely Nike or Adidas would have been interested in a similar deal. But for a company whose profile, while growing, isn’t yet at the level of Nike or Adidas, baseball’s still strong attendance record, and the fact that eventually everyone who watches a game will see jerseys “featuring prominent Under Armour branding,” is a strong plus.

Fanatics, a licensed sports merchandiser, was also involved in the transaction. It gets the licensing rights to manage the manufacturing and distribution of Under Armour fan gear, such as jerseys, which the two companies expect to have available prior to the 2020 season.

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