MLB announces one-size-fits-all deal with Under Armour, Fanatics starting in 2020

Under Armor and Fanatics will take over from Majestic and Nike as official uniform partners of Major League Baseball, the league confirmed Monday.

The deal is set to start in 2020 and last for 10 years, but sources say it could start before then if Majestic decides to pull out early.

Under the terms of the agreement, Under Armor will manufacture all on-field apparel, including game day and training jerseys and outerwear, which is currently manufactured by Majestic and base apparel manufactured by Nike.

Fanatics, the largest sports retailer, will manufacture the merchandise to be sold to fans, serving as both producer and seller. Fanatics, which currently operates the four major North American sports league online sites as well as NASCAR’s, will also be the distributor of the merchandise to retailers.

New Era will continue to manufacture caps for players and fans until at least 2019.

Under this vertically integrated system, MLB teams will earn a higher royalty per jersey, sources said, because a more streamlined sales process means fewer players from production to getting into fan hands.

Fanatics invested $80 million in technology and production facilities in 2016, established a wholesale division, and began contracting out their merchandise sales services to their stadium teams.

The deal was engineered by Bob Bowman, the mastermind behind the league’s MLB Advanced Media arm, who became president of league affairs and media two years ago. Bowman’s dream was to have a mass brand with major marketing power have their logo on the uniform while having a mass retailer capable of accelerating distribution and speed to market.

Although Under Armor is on the feet of many MLB stars, including Bryce Harper and Clayton Kershaw, this is the first league apparel deal signed by the company. The brand was in the bidding for the NBA deal, which was eventually won by Nike and begins next season.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to elevate and deliver what our brand can do on a big stage,” said Peter Murray, Vice President of Global Brand and Sports Marketing, Under Armour.

Murray said the deal includes a collaboration with MLB on the brand’s electronically connected fitness portfolio, but access and outdoor display settings for data from that information has yet to be defined.

Fanatics will begin obtaining broader licensing rights to use MLB brands next season and will begin producing gear with Under Armor as early as 2018.

“This is the best deal for the league, the players and the fans,” Fanatics owner Michael Rubin said. “The quality of on-field equipment will be exceptional and the variety of merchandise that will be available to fans will be staggering with the most efficient delivery the sports world has ever seen.”

“If a fan wants to order stuff online and they’re waiting for it by the time they get to the stadium, we believe that will happen,” Rubin added. “We’ve delivered Cubs championship gear through Uber to Chicago fans. We only see that growing.”

Starting in 2020, the Under Armor logo will be on the front of all MLB jerseys.

Neal T. Doss