Under Armour's Terrapin ties

Team in 2nd year of deal


August 27, 2005|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - "Fun" isn't the word Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen used to describe filming commercials for hours last year for Under Armour athletic apparel.

It was a tradeoff, though, with a former Terrapins fullback.

Kevin A. Plank, a walk-on who ended his Terps career in 1995 as captain of the special-teams unit, is now president of the $242 million Baltimore-based company that announced yesterday that it intends to go public.

And Friedgen's team is the only one in the country wearing the sideline apparel.

"We both kind of needed each other," said Friedgen, whose program is in the second year of a five-year, $2.6 million deal with Under Armour. "When he first approached me about replacing Nike, I saw it as an opportunity for our program to gain exposure.

"I think he has a great product, and the fact he would help market us - he actually gives us money so we can market ourselves - but also his expertise in marketing, the fact they involve some of our coaches helps our exposure."

Friedgen, who is entering his fifth season as head coach, said he didn't think Nike showed Maryland a lot of respect when he was first searching for a sponsor. Nike was pushing for a five-year deal when Friedgen wanted only three.

"They basically told me that if we didn't win in three years, they would drop us," said Friedgen, noting the team still wears Nike shoes. "But we won. Our contract was up and we went looking. They couldn't match what Kevin offered us. It was a little bit of a gamble on both of our parts because they had never made uniforms before. I knew they had a heck of a product, but we were kind of an experimental thing."

Under Armour is known for its tightness, which aims to be like a second skin and draw away moisture. But the first jerseys Maryland received were a little loose.

"They'd stretch so much a guy would grab a [player] and he'd run for about five yards," Friedgen said with a chuckle. "I said, `We need to tighten these up, Kevin.' It's been a kind of work in progress. They're at practice quite a bit. They're always getting our kids' reaction to the uniforms."

In 1995, Plank approached Ron Ohringer, Maryland's head equipment manager, and showed him his idea. At first, Ohringer was a little skeptical.

"It seemed like a good idea, but part of it at that time was cost, and it wasn't a good enough idea to spend more on it," he said. "Everything now seems to be really good with it. It is lighter weight and doesn't hold the moisture."

Georgia Tech equipment manager Tom Conner was the first to close a deal and bought $8,000 to $9,000 worth of athletic undershirts.

"By the end of the first day we had guys wearing sizes they couldn't even fit in because they wanted to wear it so badly," Conner said. " ... The feedback was so good that we made the decision to make that change into their shirts completely for the next season, which we did."

Maryland followed.

Now, Plank walks the sidelines at the Terps' games, and Maryland's entire staff walks around practice with T-shirts bearing the Under Armour slogan: "We must protect this house."

Cornerback Josh Wilson was a marketing intern at Under Armour this summer, and said he took inventory, learned how to sell merchandise and get contracts with teams.

Ohringer said he never expected the company, which began in Plank's grandmother's basement, to grow the way it did. "He hit the American dream," Ohringer said. "They've got a good product, and they've gotten it noticed."

In the process, Maryland has gotten some attention, too.

"We're the one," Ohringer said, referring to Maryland's full uniforms. "One of the things Ralph liked about this deal is we're the only one."

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