The partnership marks the first time Under Armour has sponsored an entire national team for the Summer Olympic Games, meaning the sports apparel company’s logo will appear during televised events and could be seen on the medal stand in 2016 and 2020.
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Other athletes sponsored by the Baltimore-based company, such as Michael Phelps, were forced to wear competitors’ gear, like Nike’s, because of strict rules governing branding during the Olympics. By signing an agreement with gymnastics’ national governing body, Under Armour has bought the right to be seen during the time when the sport matters most.
While the deal covers both the men’s and women’s teams, the ramifications are likely to be felt more with women. Female gymnasts often become the most popular athletes at the Games.
American winners of the all-around gold medal such as Mary Lou Retton, Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin remain viable as speakers and pitchwomen long after their gymnastics careers. Gabby Douglas, who won the all-around in 2012, could make as much as $10 million over the next four years, some sports marketing experts said.
“The women’s all-around winner always has the chance to be the real breakout star of the games,” said Bob Dorfman, the executive creative director of Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco, after the London Games. “There’s a charisma there, established over time, that gives that person a real gravitas that lasts a long, long time. That’s unusual for an Olympic star.”
Douglas has said she’ll compete in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. If she does, she’ll wear the Under Armour logo.
The new deal comes on the heels of Under Armour’s opening a Brand House store in the Harbor East neighborhood of Baltimore that evenly divides the amount of retail space given to men’s and women’s apparel.
“As Under Armour continues to expand into new categories globally, we are committed to strengthening our position as the leader in performance innovation,” said Matt Mirchin, Under Armour’s senior vice president for brand and sports marketing, in a news release. “We are proud to partner with USA Gymnastics, providing state-of-the-art performance apparel, footwear and accessories designed to help these elite gymnasts perform at their best.”
This is not Under Armour’s first foray into gymnastics. It signed Alicia Sacramone in 2011, but the most decorated American gymnast in the history of the world championships did not make the U.S. team for the London Olympics and retired from the sport in January. Under Armour provided her with most of her training gear — including custom leotards — and does the same for several college teams, including the University of Maryland’s and Towson University’s.
“I think it’s a great fit,” said Brett Nelligan, Maryland women’s gymnastics coach, of the company taking a broader interest in the sport. “Under Armour is such an innovative company, and that goes along with a sport that is constantly changing and evolving.”
Nelligan said Maryland’s affiliation with Under Armour helps his recruiting, as the brand grabs the attention of young athletes. He also said he feels firsthand the heightened excitement surrounding the sport after an Olympics, as he’s constantly asked questions. His own team, which is 12-1-1 this season, has set attendance records in part because of carry-over interest in the sport.
Under Armour will partner with GK Elite, which has made the Olympic team’s performance apparel since 2000, to design the leotards.
“I think it’s a smart move if they’re looking to take market share from established brands like Nike,” said Matt Saler, a sports marketing executive with Baltimore’s IMRE. “This gets them out there on the world’s biggest athletic stage, and the women’s gymnastics team is front and center. There’s no better way to resonate with a wide range of people, but especially women and girls.”