Under Armour Deal Is MLB's Gateway Drug To Turning Players Into Billboards

And now Jesse Spector with sports.
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Baseball’s winter meetings are about the near future, who’s going to be on your favorite team next season. On Monday, the look-ahead was much farther, to 2020, with the announcement of a 10-year deal starting then for Under Armour to be the majors’ official uniform supplier. And what you can really see is even deeper into the 21st century, because of what this deal means.

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It’s not just about Under Armour pipping Majestic to become baseball’s outfitter. It’s not just that Nike, Reebok, and Adidas aren’t getting that business, while watching the 20-year-old Baltimore sportswear company make its biggest deal ever. It’s the torrent of money waiting to flow, with the skeleton key to the safe being stitched into your mind.

Your grandfather said that rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for General Electric. Your dad said that rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for Microsoft. Well, thanks to Phil Hecken, the weekend editor of Uni Watch, you can see that in 2020, rooting for the Yankees will be like rooting for Under Armour. Really, rooting for all 30 teams will be like rooting for Under Armour, because the interlocking “UA” is going to be on the front of every major league jersey, whether it’s the interlocking “NY” of the Yankees or the classic blue script of the Dodgers.

Just picturing how that UA makers mark is gonna look on a Yankee jersey... pic.twitter.com/EC5yBzbZPe

— Phil Hecken (@PhilHecken) December 5, 2016

Getting the Under Armour logo on the front of jerseys, after the Majestic logo has been worn on sleeves, is a step toward the big money that will make rooting for the Yankees really like rooting for General Electric, or Microsoft, or, in 2026 or so, oh, let’s say the Trump Organization. Once there’s one corporate logo on the front of a baseball jersey, what’s to stop more from following? A sense of decorum? Respect for tradition? Aesthetics? Please. There’s money to be made, and it’s long been a question of when – or, really, how it would become acceptable to the public.

The Under Armour logo on the front of jerseys will be an amuse-bouche for selling real estate on baseball jerseys, helping to make it palatable for more to come. Major League Baseball waded into these waters a little bit when the Yankees and Rays opened the 2004 season in Japan, wearing large patches on their sleeves and stickers on their helmets to advertise for Ricoh.

Jersey ads already are starting in the NBA next season, which will further the normalization of the idea for American sports fans, who are more and more used to corporate logos on team uniforms thanks to the spread of European soccer on television, not to mention Major League Soccer and the WNBA, where team identity is barely present on uniforms. To a time traveler from even 10 years ago, it would have appeared that this year’s WNBA Finals were between the Los Angeles EquiTrust and the Minnesota Mayo Clinic.

Major League Baseball’s customer base probably is a little more reluctant to embrace that kind of corporate takeover – we’re talking about a sport where a not-insignificant number off fans still insist that, after more than four decades, the designated hitter will ruin the game forever. And there surely will be outrage about the Under Armour logo’s appearance on the front of jerseys. The calculation on the league’s part was that such a negative reaction could be counterbalanced by the significantly larger sum of money that Under Armour was willing to pay to put that logo there – and the brand’s ability to connect with the younger market that baseball is so desperate to reach. When the time comes that people are used to one logo, the calculation will again be easy for MLB: an outlandish sum of money will be worth accepting in exchange for another small patch of real estate on a uniform.

The deal already is worth it for baseball fans, because the announcement at the winter meetings included a quasi-press conference with MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds asking questions of several players who already have a relationship with Under Armour – and one exchange to last a lifetime for fans who have listened to Reynolds’ broadcasting work.

“You know what I’m talking about, Kersh, don’t you?” Reynolds said to the greatest pitcher on Earth, Clayton Kershaw.

“I don’t,” Kershaw replied.

BIG PAPI’S BIG PITCH

David Ortiz may have retired at the end of the season, but while he’s put his power bat aside, his earning power remains. The Red Sox legend, who probably can hawk Dunkin’ Donuts with Rob Gronkowski forever – and here’s hoping he does, because their ads together are magical – is now encouraging you to book your vacation the Big Papi way.

Fresh off a vacation at the Garden View Villa in Punta Cana, Ortiz is back to tell you all about TripAdvisorRentals, and share some delightful photos that will be perfect cover art should he ever decide to release either a post-apocalyptic hip-hop album (the one with the house and pool) or a collection of smoothly-crooned love songs (the one on the portico).

“After nearly two decades in professional baseball, this vacation from TripAdvisorRentals was a perfect opportunity to kick back and relax with my boys,” Ortiz says in the release. “The reviews made it easy to find the right home, even while I was playing the final games of my career. With so much insider info, they made it easy to find and book the perfect rental for a relaxing trip.”

This is why you want to be a designated hitter: plenty of time even while playing the final games of your career to book a luxurious vacation. Must have been stressful, though. Ortiz went 1-for-9 as the Red Sox got swept by Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs.

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