Under Armour vs. Nike

New deal for Alcoa raises stakes of Tornadoes/Rebels clash

Sports apparel giant Under Armour has been locked in pitched battle with rival Nike since the former’s founding 15 years ago.

With Alcoa athletics director Josh Stephens announcing last week the school has entered into an agreement with Under Armour to outfit the Tornadoes for the next three seasons beginning this fall, they’re about to take it to the gridiron.

Alcoa’s contract with Baltimore-based Under Armour will see the Tornadoes clad from head to toe in the company’s high-tech, shrink-wrap jerseys and pants, cleats and other gear. With the school’s other sports teams able to take part in the company’s “Undeniable” program, Alcoa is now an officially sponsored Under Armour high school, one of only 57 the company grants official sponsorship to nationwide.

“The main thing is we’re proud to be named an Under Armour school,” Stephens said. “They obviously have a great product, and we’re proud to be wearing their uniforms.”

The Under Armour deal sets up an interesting scenario between the Tornadoes and cross-town rival Maryville come fall. With the Rebels entering into a similar agreement with Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike two years ago, the financial muscle behind this year’s meeting Aug. 27 at Alcoa’s Goddard Field will be substantial.

“On that night, both teams will be outfitted as well as any high school in the nation,” Stephens said. “It’ll be exciting.”

The Tornadoes and Rebels share the record with 12 state championships each in the playoff era of Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association football. Alcoa holds the record for consecutive championships outright with titles in each of the last seven years. The Tornadoes will enter the 2011 season riding a 43-game winning streak.

The Under Armour agreement will enable the Tornadoes to purchase everything from jerseys to socks to cleats to foul weather gear at a substantially discounted rate. A North Carolina high school with a similar agreement reported discounts on equipment totaling 40 percent. The deal also includes coaching apparel for head coach Gary Rankin and his Alcoa staff. Stephens said the school’s other teams have the option of participating in the contract should they so choose.

“I think they’ll all do it except for basketball,” he said, “at least initially. Every sport can get onboard if they want to. It’s still expensive, but, in the long run, it’s really going to help.”

A similar agreement with Nike has all Maryville sports teams currently sporting the Swoosh.

Stephens said the school also looked into an agreement with adidas before settling on Under Armour, but the latter’s pioneering advances in performance wear, some even adopted by its Swoosh-laden competitor, made signing with Under Armour too much of an opportunity to pass on.

The sports apparel market has exploded over the last decade, with Under Armour and Nike both carving out substantial portions of the pie, respectively. Under Armour reported net fourth quarter increases last year of $301 million, an increase of 36 percent over the same period a year ago. Full-year net revenues jumped 24 percent to $1.064 billion. The company expects that number to top $1.3 billion in the current fiscal year.

Pine not for poor Nike, though.

The Swoosh made a killing in 2010, with $4.7 billion in earnings through the third quarter. Net income for the third quarter alone topped $496 million.

“We looked at everything,” Stephens said. “We obviously looked at the possibility of a deal with adidas.” Being an Under Armour school, along with the financial incentives, brought with it a prestige that proved the selling point, he said.

The Tornadoes and Rebels will kickoff off the 2011 season with the Airport Motor Mile Bowl on Aug. 20 at Maryville’s Shields Stadium. Class 3A champion Alcoa will meet Cleveland in the opener, with the 6A defending champion Rebels following against Division II champion Webb in the nightcap.

It’s Under Armour vs. Nike a week later. Let the battle be joined.

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