I bleed black and gold, but Vanderbilt is not the only school that I support. I also have a soft spot in my heart for the University of Maryland.
I grew up in Baltimore, which is the furthest thing from a college town that you can get. Other than college lacrosse, college sports weren’t generally on my radar screen until a Middle School friend invited me to a Maryland basketball game. At Cole Field House, I got to see Walt “The Wizard” Williams’ Terps take on Rodney Rogers’ Wake Forest team. After that, I was hooked.
In those days, Maryland’s basketball program was recovering from the death of Len Bias and the ensuing scandal. Walt Williams’ decision to play for Maryland under then new coach Gary Williams was a tremendous boost. Progress continued with overachievers like Evers Burns and Kevin McLinton and momentum picked up with the addition of Johnny Rhodes and Exree Hipp in 1992. Joe Smith and Keith Booth arrived on campus the following year and Maryland basketball was off and running.
Cole Field House was replaced as the home of the Maryland basketball in 2002. Now it’s being reinvented as the “Nation’s Premier Athletic Performance Facility” according to promotional material. The $155 million project is being led by a $25 million gift by the founder and CEO of Under Armour, Kevin Plank. Plank is a former Terps football player and not surprisingly the signature feature of the project will be football facilities to be called the Terrapin Performance Center.
Last year, Under Armour and Maryland made news with the announcement of a 10-year partnership, which guarantees nearly $33 million in rights fees and athletic apparel to the school. As part of this deal, Under Armour created bold, Maryland-inspired uniforms for the University’s athletic teams, including this football uniform that pays homage to the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore at Fort McHenry and the Star Spangled Banner.
The partnership between Under Armour and Maryland signifies a grander plan being carried out to emulate the University of Oregon. According to The New York Times:
Athletic departments throughout the country watched with envy in recent years as Phil Knight, a founder of Nike and an Oregon alumnus, donated hundreds of millions of dollars to help propel the Ducks from relative obscurity to the upper echelon of college sports.
“We are the University of Nike,” Oregon declared unapologetically. Now, 2,800 miles east, Maryland is positioning itself as the University of Under Armour, thanks to the founder and chief executive of Nike’s ascendant rival.
Under Armour also benefits mightily from its partnership with Maryland. The Maryland deal presents an opportunity to build brand value through:
- Brand awareness – Building brand awareness leads to demand for Under Armour products.
- New products – Under Armour uses Maryland athletes as part of its research-and-design process.
- Revenue growth – Brand building boosts the bottom line.
- New geography – Under Armour’s brand get increased exposure in Big Ten country.
- New customer acquisition – Leveraging the brand into new products adds to the customer base.
- Additional advertising and promotion – Exposure from football advertises and promotes the brand.
- New demographics – Brand building leads to new demographics and new markets.
- Enhanced trademark protection – Finally, (and perhaps most importantly), brand building strengthens trademark protection program.
Under Armour recently eclipsed Adidas to become the second-largest sports-apparel company in the country. Now it has its sights on Nike. Building brand value by means of its partnership with Maryland football will help Under Armour in its pursuit of its much larger rival.
Now if only the Vanderbilt football program could produce a player who could start a sports-apparel company to rival Nike and Under Armour …