REPORT: UA to buy OPaCY naming rights

Under Armour Park at Camden Yards? - Greg Fiume

And now there are just eight MLB stadiums without corporate names. Under Armour becomes the latest to put its name on a ballpark, and it's Baltimore's jewel.

In a move that in retrospect seemed almost destined to be, the Baltimore Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority will announce at a 1 p.m. press conference that the naming rights to Oriole Park at Camden Yards have been purchased by Baltimore-based athletic clothing manufacturer Under Armour.

The deal, believed to be for 20 years at a price of $120 million, falls in line in annual value with other recent stadium naming deals, including M&T Bank Stadium, the baseball park’s next-door neighbor. That deal nets $75 million over a shorter 15 year period for $5 million a year. The UA/OPaCY deal leaves just eight MLB parks without corporate-sponsored names.

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank said the company’s recent success made the time right for the venture.

"By any measure, 2013 was a banner year for the UA Brand," said Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank in the company's announcement.

Industry experts hail the deal, saying it shows UA is poised to expand its global branding efforts. Until now, UA hasn’t been a major player in baseball gear, shoes or apparel, but this may signal an expansion into that market. "It just shows how the momentum of the brand is accelerating and how it's broadening its reach to incorporate a wider breadth of consumers," said Camilo Lyon, a managing director of equity research for Canaccord Genuity in New York.

"It's a signal to their competitors, to the stock market, to the consumer, that they're in this for the long run," said Amna Kirmani, a professor of marketing at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. "They're not going to be satisfied being a small niche player. They want to be national and have a huge potential to be international."

For Under Armour, she said, "this is part of their ongoing strategy to grow and get bigger, and they're willing to spend a lot of money to do that."

It is not the first naming deal the Baltimore company has closed. In February, UA finalized a deal with the Chicago Cubs on naming rights to their Spring Training facility. No monetary terms were announced.

"The Under Armour Performance Center gives our players the opportunity to train in a strength and conditioning facility that rivals any in baseball," said Cubs Executive Vice President and General Manager Jed Hoyer. "We’re thankful to partners like Under Armour who help us bring this vision to life."

The OPaCY deal expands upon that initial foray into naming rights. Apparel industry analyst Wendy O. Williams added, "This will make a lot of major investors pretty happy. April may seem an odd time to make this announcement, but they’d be fools to pass this up in this day and age."

Such a move has been pondered by Orioles fans for years and was mentioned as a possibility by Baltimore Sports Report earlier this winter. In a piece considering five potential naming rights buyers, Under Armour made the top of their list: "Under Armour is Baltimore. Kevin Plank went to the University of Maryland, the company is based here and makes Baltimore specific gear. Could you imagine the glowing UA on the Warehouse? I sure can."

Under Armour hasn’t been shy in licensing deals in the past few years. Its deal with Notre Dame sent shock waves through the NCAA, and, according to financial expert Dougie Powers, is rumored to exceed "one million dollars" a month during the academic year. The Camden Yards stadium naming rights deal appears to be a logical next step for the corporation.

The deal does set up a potential show-down between the Orioles and the Ravens, since the O’s now have the better of the two naming rights deal. "It sets up a real war of the worlds, in a sporting sense," said analyst George O. Wells. "The Ravens let this happen without renegotiating their own deal. No one will believe this in NFL front offices."

The exact wording of the new name of the stadium will be revealed this afternoon, but retail industry sources believe "Under Armour Park at Camden Yards" to be the name going forward. Signage should be finished and installed within the month.

For more information concerning the financial impact of the deal on the Maryland Stadium Authority, see The Chicago Sentinel’s breakdown of the agreement.

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