Apparel Arms Race: Kevin Plank and Under Armour

The saying that money can’t buy happiness is bullshit to some, but there is no denying that money can buy success. The motto “the rich get richer” didn’t just fall out of the sky.

In the landscape of college football, money is king. Whether it is recruiting budgets or big donations from alumni—money talks.

Universities such as Oregon, Oklahoma State, and a plethora of others have used that model to create some success in college football.

We know about the relationship with Nike, Phil Knight, and Oregon. The late great T.Boone Pickens played an intricate role in bringing Oklahoma State back to relevancy. Now, Kevin Plank and Under Armour will make Maryland and other well-known programs national powers.

As we enter a transcending era in college football where players can use their likeness to make a profit for themselves, there will be a change of the guard in some aspect. While it may be far-fetched that Maryland and other schools sponsored by Under Armour, will be in the same pantheon as Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State, they do have every chance to shake things up with the new NCAA rules.

Nobody has ever confused Maryland as a football powerhouse, but they have been a program that churned out NFL talents such as Shawne Merriman, Torrey Smith, Vernon Davis, and Stefan Diggs. Coincidentally, all of those guys hail from the DMV area. Like many programs, the Terps success hinges on recruiting in their region since they do not have the reputation to recruit on a national level. That will be changing soon thanks to Under Armour CEO, Kevin Plank.

Many people don’t know the name Kevin Plank but soon they will. Kevin Plank isn’t a popular name to the masses but in the world of sports and business, he is a beast. Plank, the founder of Under Armour, is a former University of Maryland football player who has had a unique path to where he is today. After walking on to the Maryland Football team in the mid-1990s, Plank used monies from a seasonal business to create the powerful brand Under Armour.

Currently, Plank’s net worth is $1.1 billion and because of his status and wealth, he will play a massive role in changing the Terrapins football program and potentially help rewrite the book for collegiate athletes under the new NCAA rules.

According to ESPN, “The NCAA’s top governing body said Wednesday that it supports a proposal to allow college athletes to sign endorsement contracts and receive payment for other work, provided that the schools they attend are not involved in any of the payments.”

Furthermore, players can sign with agents while enrolled in school. VaynerSports, Klutch Sports and Roc Nation will be big factors here given their successful track records with creating brands for athletes on and off the field. While it may be unfathomable that an eighteen-year-old will have an agent, it will be a new reality going forward.

Plank and others like him now have a huge advantage in recruiting. He’ll be able to directly pay athletes under the new rules and do it legally without needing to go through illegal channels to make deals occur. Plank is one of many big-named apparel CEO’s that can make this an endorsement arms race for the top players in the country.

Forking out large amounts of cash is nothing for Plank. He has an affinity for writing big checks to his beloved alma mater. In 2014, he pledged a $25 million commitment in support of a planned academic, research, and athletics complex. Who’s to say that he won’t use the same approach to revitalize the Terps football program?

If Maryland is recruiting a five-star athlete who has scholarship offers from the who’s who in college football, they can sell the Under Armour brand as a tool for them to land student-athletes.

Not to slight Maryland’s Head Coach Mike Locksley’s ability to recruit, he is one of the best in the business, but the UA-Maryland relationship is a game changer in these times and has the potential to make Maryland a top tier team in the Big Ten at an accelerated pace. Locksley and the Terps are already making waves after the brother of Tua Tagovailoa, Taulia committed to them Friday evening after transferring from Alabama. It does help that Tua and Locksley won a championship together and had a great player/coach relationship, but you cannot argue the inevitable.

The possibilities of Taulia maximizing his earning potential increases exponentially at Maryland, quite simply because of Plank and Under Armour.

In 2006, Vernon Davis inked a deal with UA after finishing his college football career with Maryland. Not to say that there were any illegal actions from either party, but it wasn’t a coincidence that Davis signed with UA, whose founder is an alumnus of the same University. Just like it isn’t a coincidence that Tagovailoa signed with Maryland over top-tier programs.

This strategy can help turn Maryland into a juggernaut in college football. For example, if Penn State is battling Maryland for the same student-athlete, James Franklin can’t say that if you play in Happy Valley we can make you a multi-millionaire by signing with Nike.

While Under Armour isn’t in the same conversation as Nike, they are still a juggernaut in sports. Athletes such as Bryce Harper, Steph Curry, and Cam Newton are all sponsored by UA. In addition to that, 22 FBS universities sport UA, which consists of eleven group of five schools and eleven Power 5 schools.

Since the inception of the College Football Playoffs, only one UA sponsored team has made it, Notre Dame in 2018.  Outside of ND, every team that has played in the CFP has been a Nike school. On top of Maryland and Notre Dame, schools such as Wisconsin, Northwestern, Utah and Auburn all wear and receive money from the brand.

Outside of Maryland, other schools with respectable and large alumni will also be impacted as well. If you look at Notre Dame Football, they have one of the biggest brands in sports. While it appears that they haven’t really been relevant since the movie Rudy. They are just short of a decade removed from playing in the National Championship and since then, they have been at or near the top ten in the country. 

The partnership between Notre Dame, Plank, and UA could propel them back into a true national power. With national brands as big as Notre Dame and Under Armour, college football players will become millionaires. There is no way around it. The marketable superstars will be on billboards, commercials, and anything that will monetize their social media.

For example, Will Fuller was a second-team All-American in 2015 and played a position that you can market pretty easily. Can you imagine the amount of money he would have made? It’s safe to say he would have been a millionaire prior to being drafted by the Houston Texans.

Although South Bend is a college town, Notre Dame has a huge fan base and its alumni are worldwide. In addition to that, larger markets such as Indianapolis and Chicago are right down the road from Notre Dame.

If we are fortunate to have a college football season, it will be interesting to see how the student-athletes will operate compared to years before.

With the NCAA allowing the rule changes with no concrete guidelines or parameters, college football will be changed forever. Under the new format, billionaire CEOs like Plank will be just as important as having an elite coaching staff and players.  Friday’s news with Tagovailoa heading to College Park is just the tip of the iceberg for what’s ahead with Maryland and other big-named programs sponsored by Under Armour.

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