Under Armour Quietly Cornered the Referee Apparel Market

Written By:  •  Tuesday, October 11, 2016

under armour logo

The University of Oregon athletics program has been sponsored by Nike over the years, so it wasn’t surprising to see the football players all decked out in Nike apparel when they played Virginia last month. While college football picks had Oregon winning the game, there was another winner during the game featuring two teams wearing Nike apparel.

Under Armour, a company that has been competing with Nike for years to sponsor team uniforms, got a lot of exposure during the game, but didn’t have to spend as much money as its bigger rival did to get some much needed television exposure.

During the game between Oregon and Virginia, there were 22 penalties, which might not have meant a lot to the people watching the game. However, the penalties gave Under Armour a lot of exposure because the referees has Under Armour’s logo on their uniforms and caps.

While referees don’t command the type of attention the players do during games, Under Armour realized that every time a penalty is called, the umpire has to face the cameras to explain what the penalty was and how many yards it will cost the offending team.

With the Under Armour logo on the front and back of the referees shirt and cap, the company got a lot of exposure from the 22 times that the umpire had to face the camera and announce the penalty.

under armour referee

For years, Under Armour turned its focus to referees, and negotiated deals to have game day officials working in the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Big 12 and all the other FBS conferences.

According to analysts, it was a typical Under Armour move which allowed the company to carve out a niche to compete with Nike, which is more entrenched in college football than any other sports apparel company.

Even though DVRs and other devices allow fans to skip through commercials and parts of the games they don’t want to watch, the referees command attention, and with Under Armour’s logo on their uniforms, the company gets to promote its brand very efficiently.

Jonathan Jensen, an assistant professor in the University of North Carolina’s sports administration program and sports marketing consultant, said that now that the DVR penetration is over 50 percent, in-program exposure of brands is becoming more appealing to advertisers, especially when the event is being broadcast.

Under Armour began its pursuit of referees four years ago starting with the SEC, which is considered the best conference by college football experts. A spokesperson for the company said they didn’t make the referee uniforms at the time, just the hats and footwear.

Over the years, the company gradually signed contracts with all the FBS conferences, and this year, they have deals with all the 10 conferences to make all the gear the referees wear each weekend.

While both Under Armour and Nike supply apparel to the NFL, neither company manufactures apparel for the referees. Ripon Athletic is the company that supplies the referee apparel in the NFL, but their deal with the league prohibits them from putting their company logo on the uniforms.

In a little over four years, Under Armour has been able to corner the referee apparel market in college football, which was something a lot of people didn’t see coming because the referee uniforms were made by several companies. Now that they have cornered the market, look for the company to expand to other areas.

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