Under Armour, Maryland in tight contractual embrace

New 10-year deal provides window on close relationship

September 13, 2014|Jeff Barker | The Baltimore Sun

Football players sometimes get creative with their ankle tape. Instead of wrapping their feet before a game, they ask a trainer to loop white or brightly colored tape around the outside of the shoe in a way that obscures the shoe company's logo.

Known as "spatting," it is considered a fashion statement by some and by others a safeguard against sprained ankles.

But it better not occur at the University of Maryland. After an initial warning, the school would be liable for at least $160,000 for a second violation and a minimum of $240,000 for a third offense, according to the new contract between the university and Under Armour, its official outfitter. The money would be deducted from the rights fees Under Armour pays Maryland every three months.

Under Armour is known for the catchphrase "Protect this House," and its just-announced 10-year deal is loaded with terms to protect the Baltimore-based sports apparel maker's interests in its continuing partnership with the state's flagship university. The contract — obtained under a Public Information Act request — guarantees nearly $33 million in rights fees and athletic apparel to the school.

The contract, which took effect July 1, locks the two organizations in a tight embrace.

The deal all but prohibits Maryland athletes or staff from wearing the apparel of Under Armour's competitors, who, like it, outfit college Division I teams. The listed competitors are Nike, Reebok, Adidas, New Balance, Russell, Li Ning, Evo-Shield and their affiliates.

"They're in such a competitive space," said Marc "Blue" Bluestein, president and CEO of Aquarius Sports and Entertainment, a Gaithersburg-based marketing firm. "It doesn't surprise me to see the competitors listed. It sounds cliched, but you've got to protect your investment."

Maryland will benefit from Under Armour rights fees ranging from $1.6 million in the first year to $1.8 million in the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2024.

Each year, the school will receive $1.3 million to $1.8 million in Under Armour products — from polo shirts and T-shirts for coaches and staff to specialty gear such as the flag-depicting, red-belted football uniforms designed for Saturday's game to pay homage to the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore and "The Star-Spangled Banner."

In return, Maryland guarantees its loyalty to the Under Armour brand. That translates into a number of promises, such as the no-spatting requirement.

The contract requires coaches and teams to wear Under Armour gear during team activities and university-sponsored camps. Under Armour acknowledges that the school cannot control products used by coaches at their own camps or clinics.

The detailed pact outlines the narrow circumstances under which a Maryland player or coach could wear the brand of an Under Armour rival during competition.

Imagine that Maryland needs gear — the contract uses the example of golf shoes — that Under Armour does not currently supply in bulk. Under the contract, the university is bound first to seek the product from a noncompetitor. If the product can only be obtained from an Under Armour competitor, Maryland may buy it.

But there is a caveat: The school must cover any logo or marks that indicate where the gear originated "unless removing or covering such third-party indicia of origin destroys such products."

Under Armour has 14 such NCAA Division I partnerships. It outfits hundreds of collegiate programs in a variety of sports and divisions.

Towson is among Under Armour's partners in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA.

"Our [contract] is nowhere near what Notre Dame or Maryland is getting but, in terms of an FCS school, I would think we have one of the best apparel-shoe company deals around," said Towson athletic director Tim Leonard.

"In the Mid-Atlantic, Under Armour plays," Leonard said. "In this area, it's as big as Nike or Adidas. Most importantly, we like working with Under Armour because we're a Baltimore-area school and they're a Baltimore-area company."

The University of Maryland announced the initial, five-year, $17.5 million agreement for the company to become the official outfitter of its sports teams in September 2008.

The newest contract includes a number of competition-related bonuses for the school. Among other football incentives, Maryland would get $50,000 for appearing in major bowl games and $25,000 for winning the Big Ten conference championship.

Maryland would receive $25,000 for winning the Big Ten championship in men's basketball or $15,000 for winning it in women's basketball. There are bonuses for other teams as well.

Under Armour's best-known Maryland design could be the "Maryland Pride" football uniforms that debuted in 2011. The school wanted a fresher, sleeker image — something new recruits couldn't wait to put on. Under Armour complied with multicolored uniforms evoking the Maryland flag.

"We're trying to help them become a conversation piece," said Adam Clement, Under Armour's creative director for team sports. "When we did Maryland Pride for the first time, people were talking about the university. If the [Under Armour] brand gets a little notoriety from it, that's fine."

Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank has a close relationship with the university.

Plank is a Maryland graduate, former special-teams football player and a member of the Board of Trustees.

"There's no question that Kevin is very proud of his alma mater," Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said. "The relationship we have personally and professionally is something I don't think too many people in my position have."

jebarker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

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