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Under Armour Hits Home Run With MLB Deal

November 15, 2016
For Kevin Plank and Under Armour, becoming the official uniform supplier to one of the major professional sports leagues in the United States had been the Holy Grail.

They tried to get the National Football League deal for 2012 but lost to bitter rival Nike in 2010.

Nike also beat out Under Armour for the NBA contract that starts next season, and Adidas will outfit NHL teams starting in 2017-18.

So it was a monumental victory for the Baltimore-based company to secure Major League Baseball rights, starting with the 2020 season.

But it might be an even bigger deal for MLB.

Majestic Athletic has been supplying MLB with uniforms (made at a facility near Easton, Pa.) since 2005. And while Majestic is a solid company that makes a solid product, it doesn't have anywhere near the panache of Under Armour.

"What Under Armour brings to Major League Baseball is brand strength and a relevance that the previous licensee did not have," Howe Burch, president of Baltimore-based TBC Advertising, said.

"People were buying the name of the team or player. The brand was incidental," added Burch, who was also the former vice president of U.S. marketing for Reebok International and senior vice president for marketing communications and sports marketing at Fila. "Under Armour provides added value as a performance brand. I think it's really good for Major League Baseball. They would much rather be affiliated with a brand that has cache than one that is obscure. Nobody knows who Majestic is."

In addition, Under Armour's paid endorsers have notoriety. And while the company doesn't have a ton of baseball players, the ones it does have are pretty high profile: Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, San Diego Padres outfielder Wil Myers and Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips.

Anyone who has watched an Orioles game, or a San Francisco Giants game, has seen the Under Armour logo on nearly every pitch, emblazoned on the gear of catchers Matt Wieters and Buster Posey.

Point being, even though Plank established the foundation of the company with football, Under Armour has baseball experience.

Nearly everyone in Maryland knows what Under Armour has done to raise the sartorial profile of the University of Maryland's football team, which Plank played for in the mid-1990s.

It started in 2011 when the Terps wore Under Armour-designed uniforms that were supposed to look like the state flag during a game against the University of Miami. The fierce reactions -- both pro and con -- nearly broke the internet. Since then, they have worn "Maryland Pride" uniforms and uniforms designed to pay homage to the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore.

Paul Lukas is probably the preeminent uniform expert in the country. He writes a monthly column on uniforms for, and his website is a must-see for anyone who cares about what teams are wearing.

Lukas said he's not worried about Under Armour-designed baseball uniforms also causing a virtual stir.

"I don't think the New York Yankees are going to look radically different 10 years from now, no matter who the uniform outfitter is," Lukas said. "I don't think the Chicago Cubs are going to look radically different 10 years from now, no matter who the uniform outfitter is.

"I could be wrong. But, ultimately, it's up to those teams. It's not up to the commissioner's office, and it's certainly not up to Under Armour. Under Armour can only do what it's permitted or asked to do."

Under Armour, he stressed, will be a vendor serving the desires of the 30 MLB teams, and some may actually want something completely different.

"This year, the Arizona Diamondbacks went with a completely different look -- whether you call it innovative or ridiculous or however you want to assess it," Lukas said. "But it certainly was a very different kind of look. And they did that with Majestic. They didn't need Under Armour to do that."

Lukas recalled the uproar when, not long after the Nike-NFL deal was announced in 2010, sketches of proposed designs for the company's "Pro Combat" uniforms were leaked. They were, to put it one way, clearly inspired by what Nike did for the University of Oregon football team.

Turned out most NFL teams didn't want to become Oregon.

Nike has done makeovers for a few teams, Lukas said, "but I don't think the pace of makeovers has accelerated -- or is any different -- under Nike than it was in the previous decade under Reebok. It's just the normal order of things that some teams occasionally get a redesign.

"I think that most people would agree that the NFL, except on Thursday nights, still looks largely like it did, or is in a place of somewhat predictable progression from where it had been no matter who the outfitter was."

We almost certainly won't be seeing Major League Baseball uniforms that are reminiscent of the 1999's "Turn Ahead The Clock" days, which saw teams wear uniforms that supposedly represented what might be worn in 2021.

But we might see throwback uniforms that actually look like they belonged in 1970 or before. Under Armour has developed a faux-flannel product it calls "Legend Gray" that has the look of retro road uniforms.

Lukas, as you might suspect, loves them, but wonders how big the fans' appetite for seeing flannel uniforms is.

"It's worth remembering that there's at least one, and arguably two, generations of baseball fans who don't even remember or understand or care that baseball uniforms were once flannel," he said. "... It would certainly be good for some throwbacks."

Issue 227: November 2016