Whether you follow sports or not, you’re likely familiar with the term “March Madness.” Now that March is coming to a close, the basketball madness that has likely been overtaking your social media, news stations and office conversations is coming to an end. However, as the South Carolina Gamecocks, Gonzaga Bulldogs, Oregon Ducks and North Carolina Tar Heels prepare to square off in the Final Four, with millions of avid fans watching, there’s a very different marketing battle taking place right under our noses.
In sports, there’s pretty much always a clear winner. If you look at women’s college basketball, for instance, UCONN is practically unstoppable. The team has turned into a force much like Goliath, except no Davids have come along to defeat it yet. The same holds true for the marketing world; Nike is arguably one of the most well-known brands out there, with its slogan—“Just Do It”—a familiar saying to just about everyone. Between sponsoring the Olympics and several different sports teams, it’s safe to say that Nike is the Goliath of sports marketing. Although some businesses and individuals have tried to beat the brand, no one has done so successfully—even the determined and oh-so-impressive LaVar Ball couldn’t upstage Nike.
Well, that could be about to change this basketball season. Under Armour, which provides jerseys and sneakers to the University of South Carolina, may be more excited about the team’s participation in the Final Four than the Gamecocks are. The university’s participation is the first time one of Under Armour’s schools has made it to the Final Four, and the company is planning to take full advantage of the situation.
“It's all about the marketing side of this,” Matt Powell, a sports retail analyst for NPD Group, said. “The exposure can be worth a lot of money and everyone is going to be seeing [Under Armour'] logo on the uniforms. It's a dream for any brand.” With the NCAA reporting that 2015’s championship game averaged 28.3 million total viewers, it’s clear that Under Armour is going to have a large audience to market its gear to.
That audience will essentially be watching a showdown between Nike and Under Armour, with Nike representing all teams except for South Carolina. Surprisingly, Adidas didn’t even make it to the Final Four, leaving Under Armour to square off against Goliath on its own. But, if South Carolina wins it all while wearing Under Armour jerseys and sneakers? Well, then Under Armour may be the David that finally knocks Nike off its pedestal.
Sponsoring a Final Four team is just one of Under Armour’s many marketing pursuits of late. While we’ve all been concentrating on what team is winning which tournament, the company has been slowly working its way onto our TV sets. For example, Under Armour recently struck a 10 year deal with the MLB that will have it providing uniforms to all 30 MLB clubs starting in 2020. Meanwhile, it also made a scene on the football field by recruiting some of the sport’s best MVPs to vouch for the brand. The company’s “It Comes From Below” campaign showcased up-and-coming athletes as brand ambassadors. Faces of the campaign included stars like Cam Newton and Bryce Harper, giving Under Armour a major boost in credibility.
Baseball, football and basketball seasons have all come and gone in the past year. Little did we know that, during that time, Under Armour has been slowly playing a marketing game of its own. Will basketball be the next sport to be dominated by Under Armour gear? We’ll have to wait until the games on April 1 and 3 to find out.