The WaPo has a nice, shiny story lined up for the Sunday paper on local apparel company - and, if you didn't know, Maryland's main outfitter - Under Armor, focusing on, among other things, their pursuit of Nike and their attempts to break into basketball.
And I now have hope that they will.
First off, it's a great read on Kevin Plank, a great business mind and Terp alum - it's tough not to admire him to some extent. It's also a great read because it gives you hope that these guys can become the next Nike, and just ask Oregon how nice it is to be Nike's flagship (they're stuggling in basketball at the moment, but that won't last for long).
Some excerpts [emphasis mine]:
The idea of taking market share from Nike, as well as the other "big guys," is still a street fight. But even with some flubs, several analysts agree that the lucrative U.S. sports apparel/footwear market is inexorably becoming a duel between Nike and Under Armour.
"I don't know anyone who has stayed in Nike's cross hairs and lived to tell about it, and Nike has had UA in its cross hairs for the past four to five years," says John Horan, who publishes Sporting Goods Intelligence, an industry newsletter.
Under Armour has made mistakes in pursuit of that 3 percent -- a rushed football cleat in 2006, a dud in the highly competitive running shoe market in 2009 -- but analysts say that now the company is getting it right. It has hired a slew of executives, including veterans from past shoe and apparel wars. Apparel sales for women, men and youth grew by double digits in the second quarter of 2009.
"If you asked me who could be equal to Nike in the future, the only company I can think about is Under Armour," says Sonny Vaccaro, who helped Nike build its empire by putting its basketball shoes on celebrities such as Michael Jordan.
In football, brand helps with equipment and money, and Under Armor can provide both. The bigger they get, the more Maryland begins to parallel Oregon, Nike's baby. Plank wants success, and if Ralph Friedgen has another bad year, he might need to start signing checks. And he has that ability. The better UA does, the more Maryland will start to get newer prototypes, alternate jerseys, etc. - those give publicity and revenue, are big draws for recruits, and might actually help the product on the field.
Where brand helps the most visibly, though, is in basketball recruiting. And if they are "doing it right" in that regard, they'll make a serious dent. The final statements seemed more focused toward the consumer market, and that's step #1 - getting a shoe out there, mass-marketing it, and making Brandon Jennings a household name.
To the original point, though, the biggest thing for UA to get involved in might be the recruiting game: they can start signing high schools, signing AAU teams, building relationships at a young stage - that's what matters. If Sonny Vaccaro says they're doing it right, then I'll believe him. (By the way, if he's not on Planks payroll, he should be). If they do, Maryland will (or at least should) profit. Not too long ago, I didn't have a lot of hope that would happen. Of course, this was supposed to be a positive piece, but I'll take what I can get.
I've already explained why this is - brands and recruiting - but if you need an explanation anyway, just comment.
We'll see how it all turns out, but is the first real positive piece of news regarding Maryland's athletic outfitter in quite some time. If they are "doing it right", if they can ride that train of cool, rebellious attitude, if they can take on Nike and not die out, Maryland will be all the better for it. I'm sure you've heard that the UA partnership has hurt Maryland - and in some ways, it has - but for now, at least, there's hope that they can transcend that and go into a greater level.