Un­der Ar­mour to out­fit Ma­jor League Base­ball

Start­ing in 2020, ap­parel firm will pro­vide uni­forms for teams

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Jeff Barker and Lor­raine Mirabella

Un­der Ar­mour will out­fit all Ma­jor League Base­ball play­ers be­gin­ning in 2020 un­der an agree­ment reached with the league — the Bal­ti­more brand’s first such part­ner­ship with a ma­jor Amer­i­can pro­fes­sional league.

The own­ers have ap­proved the switch from Ma­jes­tic Athletic to Un­der Ar­mour, ac­cord­ing to two sources with knowl­edge of the agree­ment.

The agree­ment hasn’t been an­nounced. Un­der Ar­mour rep­re­sen­ta­tives did not im­me­di­ately re­turn calls seek­ing com­ment.

Un­der Ar­mour had been look­ing to make in­roads with MLB, which part­ners with many sporting goods and ap­parel com­pa­nies.

Rawl­ings makes the base­balls used in games, Ma­jes­tic Athletic makes the uni­forms, New Era Cap Co. makes the caps and Schutt Sports makes the bases. Nike is MLB’s sup­plier of the base­ball un­der­shirts known as base lay­ers.

Un­der Ar­mour pro­duces some of the cleats,

com­pres­sion sleeves and bat­ting gloves used by play­ers. The com­pany also makes a share of the catch­ers’ gear, an im­por­tant mar­ket­ing tool be­cause catch­ers and their equip­ment brands ap­pear so of­ten on cam­era when games are tele­vised.

“This is a ma­jor sig­nal from Un­der Ar­mour that they’re ready to play with the big boys,” said T.J. Bright­man, pres­i­dent of Bel Air-based A. Bright Idea Ad­ver­tis­ing and Pub­lic Re­la­tions.

Ma­jes­tic ex­tended its MLB part­ner­ship last year through 2019. It could not im­me­di­ately be de­ter­mined if Ma­jes­tic sought to con­tinue the agree­ment or which other com­pa­nies might have com­peted against Un­der Ar­mour. Ma­jes­tic of­fi­cials couldn’t be reached Mon­day night at the com­pany’s of­fices in North Carolina.

Ma­jor League Base­ball di­vides its ex­clu­sive and shared li­censes and sup­plier agree­ments among many cor­po­rate play­ers. Mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als say that do­ing so leads to more prod­uct choices and max­i­mizes prof­its.

To date, Un­der Ar­mour has gained at­ten­tion in the sport by sign­ing in­di­vid­ual play­ers to use and mar­ket its prod­ucts.

The com­pany signed Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als out­fielder Bryce Harper, one of the sport’s mar­quee play­ers, to an en­dorse­ment deal in 2011, when he was still in the mi­nor leagues.

It has also signed Clay­ton Ker­shaw, the Los An­ge­les Dodgers’ star pitcher.

“Team sports are a pil­lar of our busi­ness, and base­ball is an im­por­tant player,” Peter Murray, vice pres­i­dent of global brand and sports mar­ket­ing at Un­der Ar­mour, said as the current base­ball sea­son be­gan.

“We are al­ways look­ing to ex­plore a deeper re­la­tion­ship with the league and new rights op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Howe Burch, pres­i­dent of TBC Ad­ver­tis­ing in Bal­ti­more, said the MLB deal “rep­re­sents a very big op­por­tu­nity for Un­der Ar­mour. Their ori­gins are in team sports, and this gets them on the uni­forms of one of the few pro­fes­sional sports leagues in the U.S.”

Burch said the brand al­ready has many MLB play­ers un­der con­tract who wear Un­der Ar­mour cleats and catch­ers’ gear.

“This only en­hances that pres­ence,” Burch said. “It makes a lot of sense. It’s right in their wheel­house.”

Ma­jes­tic, mean­while, “re­ally has very lit­tle brand aware­ness and brand pres­ence,” he said.

Bright­man, a former vice pres­i­dent of cor­po­rate sales and spon­sor­ship for the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles, said the deal could help lure ad­di­tional star play­ers in the league to Un­der Ar­mour en­dorse­ment deals.

Ma­jor League Base­ball stands to ben­e­fit, too, by af­fil­i­at­ing with a brand with strong recog­ni­tion and cus­tomer loy­alty, Bright­man said.

The league is “al­ways look­ing to get younger, to grow their fan base,” he said. “Un­der Ar­mour is cer­tainly cool with that mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion, whereas a com­pany like Ma­jes­tic has less brand recog­ni­tion.”

While it’s too early to tell how or if uni­form de­signs might change, Bright­man said, it’s pos­si­ble that some teams, es­pe­cially small-mar­ket teams, might be more open to new looks the brand might pro­pose.

“This gives an op­por­tu­nity to have uni­forms stand out and sell more jer­seys,” he said. “There are a lot of wins here.”

Such li­cens­ing agree­ments can rep­re­sent hundreds of mil­lions of dol­lars a year and stretch over the long term, Burch said.

The com­pany made a push last sum­mer to be the NBA’s uni­form provider start­ing next year, but lost out to Nike. In foot­ball, Un­der Ar­mour out­fits play­ers at the an­nual NFL com­bine for top prospects. But Nike makes the jer­seys used in games.

K.M. FERRON/SUN

Bal­ti­more-based Un­der Ar­mour al­ready pro­vides gear worn by ma­jor league catch­ers such as the Ori­oles’ Matt Wi­eters.

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