Under Armour will begin supplying on-field uniforms to Major League Baseball in 2019, a year earlier than was stated when the athletic apparel and shoe company, along with Fanatics, won the MLB apparel contract late last year, Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred told the Associated Press on Thursday.
Additionally, Manfred said MLB fan apparel will be available from Under Armour next year, and the company will debut MLB-licensed clothing worn in MLB dugouts — but not on-field — during the 2018 postseason.
The announcement comes about one month after Fanatics said it would acquire VF Corp.'s Licensed Sports Group, which includes Majestic Athletic, the brand that was MLB’s on-field uniform partner for several years until it lost its premier partner position to Fanatics and Under Armour.
Fanatics and Under Armour won a much-anticicpated 10-year deal from MLB last December, but it was not expected to go into effect until 2020, giving Majestic another few seasons of high-profile on-field and off-field branding with MLB.
It appears from the AP story that the entire timeline for this deal has been moved up. What changed isn't specifically spelled out, but it's pretty clear that Fanatics' acquisition of VF and Majestic is the accelerating agent. If Fanatics owns the out-going MLB partner, it can rewrite the original transition plan, right?
Fanatics was really the lead dog in this MLB deal, but the component of it that Under Armour is responsible for — the on-field uniforms — is highly visible exposure for Under Armour, as the new uniforms are said to have much more visible manufacturer branding than the current uniforms.
The accelerated timeline is good news for a brand under pressure. Under Armour recently beat quarterly financial expectations, but observers are concerned about the company's performance particularly in North America against rivals like Nike and adidas. Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, recently told retail Dive that Under Armour "is going to have to do a lot more to stimulate demand over the rest of this year.”
In the near term, the company's deal to sell through Kohl's stores could be a bright spot. Unfortunately, the MLB deal won't help Under Armour this year, but it's something to look forward to.