Under Armour protects its house

Our view: The Baltimore-based company expands into baseball and sets a winning example for the local business community

February 15, 2011

The Baltimore Orioles may not be destined for the World Series this year, but you can be assured that a piece of the Baltimore area will be there. The announcement this week by Under Armour that it's reached a performance footwear deal with Major League Baseball should be officially scored another home run for the Maryland-based company.

Not that too many people are surprised by Under Armour's continued success. But to many of us, the company has long seemed more closely affiliated with the rough and tumble of football and the NFL than the nation's more pastoral sports pastime. The appearance of the MLB logo on the thousands of baseball cleats headed to sporting goods stores in the coming weeks should expand that image.

But perhaps it's baseball that should be grateful for the presence of the UA logo and not the other way around. Under Armour brings with it a remarkable track record and an understanding of how to cultivate an edgy appeal, particularly with young people. That's not something baseball has done particularly well.

Under Armour may still be a relative upstart compared to a giant like Nike, but it's making up ground fast. The company posted 2010 net revenues of more than $1 billion and recently raised its 2011 outlook to $1.3 billion, predicting a growth rate of 25 percent or more. Not too shabby considering the playing field of a still-sluggish global economy.

It's a long way from the days when a former University of Maryland walk-on football player named Kevin Plank came up with the idea of marketing to fellow athletes a fabric that would wick perspiration off the skin and improve their performance on the field. Who knew that 15 years after founding the company, the CEO would have 100 professional baseball players endorsing his cleats?

Under Armour's success is also yet another example of how Baltimore continues to be a good place to do business. Not because of low taxes (they aren't particularly) or lack of regulation (environmental and safety rules are taken seriously here despite our location south of the Mason-Dixon Line) but because the area is home to an educated and diverse workforce and enjoys a prime location in the Northeast corridor.

How fitting that Mr. Plank is a product of the University of Maryland. The state's support of higher education and research is a key to its future economic growth. Not just in the world of sports apparel and footwear but in the growing fields of stem cell research and biotechnology, cyber-security and health care, to name just a few.

Last month, officials at Under Armour announced the company was buying the entire Tide Point complex in Locust Point and plans to keep its headquarters at the former detergent manufacturing plant. Baltimore could ask for no better news from one of its most high-profile employers — or better symbol of the city's economic potential.

After all, the company that made famous the slogan, "Protect This House," has chosen to make that "house" in Charm City. Mr. Plank's unwavering belief in his product is often credited for his achievement. Building on that success requires the community to believe in the opportunities presented by Baltimore and its residents, too.

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