David Cloninger

Improvements, ‘cool factor’ keep USC locked in with Under Armour

South Carolina's Sindarius Thornwell
South Carolina's Sindarius Thornwell gmelendez@thestate.com

It’s supply and demand. When kids on the court or field see their heroes wearing a particular kind of shoes or gear, they want the same kind.

Under Armour, which clothes South Carolina as one of its two SEC teams, is making its move to be that supplier.

“Their product is a lot better, their shoes are a lot better, their gear is something that everyone loves,” USC basketball coach Frank Martin recently said. “Their apparel has been great from Day 1, and the shoes now, actually, they’re real good.”

When the Gamecocks first signed with Under Armour, there were some concerns about the shoes. But like all trial and error, Under Armour improved, reinvented and restocked with better sneakers and cleats.

The results led to a 29 percent revenue increase for the company, according to USA Today, and projected 2016 sales of nearly $5 billion. USC and Auburn re-signed with Under Armour over the past year and the company presented UCLA with the richest shoe and apparel sponsorship in college history in May– 15 years, $280 million.

Nike is still the top dog in college apparel and stands to be for quite a while. Its projected revenue for this year is nearly $34 billion.

But Nike only increased revenue by 8.3 percent, and while it and Adidas sponsored the lion’s share of teams in this year’s men’s NCAA tournament, Under Armour had 10, with nine in the women’s tournament.

Martin and others point to how Under Armour has marketed itself, signing top talents in each major sport to promote their gear. In basketball, two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry is on board, while four-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady represents the NFL.

Reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper was recently given a 10-year extension by Under Armour, two-time major winner Jordan Spieth wears UA on the links and actor/wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson promotes the brand every time he appears on the screen.

It’s cool to wear Under Armour, which is why USC never entertained another company when its deal was coming up. The school agreed to a 10-year extension for $71.5 million.

“I’m very pleased with where we are with Under Armour and the relationship with (CEO) Kevin Plank and his staff,” athletic director Ray Tanner recently said. “It’s more to me than just a company that we partner with. We have been with them quite a while and he and his staff feel like part of our family.”

Martin digs the gear for his team and said there will be a tweak in this year’s uniforms – the Gamecocks’ new design of a large “Carolina” across the jersey last year was well-received and dealing with the company has been pleasant, and lucrative.

“I think that basketball and Under Armour has kind of grown over the last three years just the same way our program has grown,” Martin said. “There’s a movement with the young stars in the professional sports, and that creates popularity and creates more interest. It’s like us in recruiting – we were able to sign Sindarius (Thornwell) and then P.J. (Dozier) and then win games, and it becomes a more popular place to recruit to.”

Future players respond to uniforms and sneakers they see on TV. A snappy jersey has become just as important as the player wearing it.

“They’re very engaging and sincere in wanting to know what’s important for us as a university in how we want our program to kind of be looked at,” Martin said. “The uniform kind of gives you a vision as to what you want your program to be viewed as.”

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The UA family

Athletes, others who have deals with Under Armour:

Tom Brady

QB, New England Patriots

Four-time Super Bowl champ

Bryce Harper

OF, Washington Nationals

Reigning National League MVP

Stephen Curry

G, Golden State Warriors

Two-time NBA MVP

Misty Copeland


American Ballet Theatre soloist

Jordan Spieth


Two-time major winner