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On the same day, in January 2013, that Nike announced its huge deal with Rory McIlroy, Under Armour announced it had signed Jordan Spieth. Spieth didn't get an eighth of the press or the fanfare of Nike and McIlroy, who was doing satellite interviews from Abu Dhabi that day, but Spieth and Under Armour might get the last laugh.
Under Armour is no longer David to Nike's Goliath. The company did $2.3 billion in sales in 2013. And yet, the brand's name and logo tattooed all over Spieth at Augusta National on Sunday comes as somewhat of a surprise.
Under Armour doesn't make golf equipment. It doesn't even make golf shoes. But here it was, completely owning the real estate on the body of the man everyone was watching. Three logos on his hat, three on his shirt ... 12 in all.
Sure, Spieth has other deals, but aside from a Titleist logo on his glove and golf bag and a NetJets logo on the bag as well, no company gets anything visible.
|Thanks to Jordan Spieth, the Under Armour logo was getting plenty to airtime at Augusta National.|
Much of Under Armour's marketing history has come from signing under-the-radar guys, hoping that players like Devin Hester keep returning kicks for touchdowns and that Robby Ginepri can break through like he did in 2005, when he found himself against Andre Agassi in the US Open semifinals.
But Spieth is part of new wave of the company's bet of big promises and big money. Three and a half years ago, Under Armour signed New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. This July, the company will begin a 10-year, $90 million partnership with Notre Dame, the largest deal in all of college sports.
Under Armour courted Spieth for years, as did every other company. There was nothing secretive about Spieth. He made eight PGA Tour starts before turning pro and joined Tiger Woods as the only player to win the US Junior Amateur twice.
Aside from his trophy shelf, he was young, he was American, he was good-looking and he was well-spoken. Then consider the fight to find the golf world's fresh blood -- was Anthony Kim fool's gold? How about Rickie Fowler? And then there was Rory, who, on the day his Nike deal was announced, was assumed to be the next great one.
Under Armour had a couple of things going for it. Of the four golfers that UA had under contract, the one who had the biggest deal, Hunter Mahan, was represented by Jay Danzi, who also represented Spieth.
When Spieth met with Under Armour, the company not only pitched him on being among a select few wearing the interlocking "UA" on the golf course, but also committed to making him its first head-to-toe golfer.
Although Under Armour didn't make clubs or shoes and wasn't as ingrained in the golf business as Nike, adidas/Taylormade or Cobra/Puma, golf is a substantial business to Under Armour, with its products in stores including Dick's, Golf Galaxy and Golfsmith, along with more than 3,000 pro shops.
The golf apparel business is a robust one, and Under Armour's premium price point in almost every other category is considered almost average in the space.
Plus, as the company committed to athletic shoes, Under Armour executives knew that if they were ever to expand into golf shoes, they needed to have them on someone who was winning.
Under Armour appealed to Spieth because he saw himself as athlete. He's good in almost every sport he tries, playing each as a lefty, as opposed to his favored hand for golf. The company told him that it would not only feature him as a golfer, but also as an athlete in its brand commercials.
Not producing golf equipment actually turned out to be a huge advantage for Under Armour, as Spieth didn't have to change equipment to make a deal. If he did a deal with Nike, Puma or adidas, he knew he'd have to play its brand and he could still get the same type of money that everyone else was offering.
Neither Under Armour or Danzi would say how much Under Armour paid to land Spieth or how long his deal is, other than to say it's a long-term deal.
What's good about having Spieth for Under Armour is that, unlike upstart companies who catch a break when they sign a guy who is better than their competitors thought, they'll never lose him because of money.
Although we're assured the deal isn't for that long, sources say that Under Armour talked in its initial meeting with him at its Baltimore headquarters about wanting to sign Spieth for 25 years.
After this Masters, Under Armour might want to get that on paper.