Navy signs with Under Armour

It had been rumored for a long time, but now it’s official: Navy has signed a long-term agreement with Under Armour to outfit not only the football team, but the entire athletic department. Navy football had been with Nike since 2002, while other sports have had their own deals with various manufacturers (Navy lacrosse was actually with Under Armour for a few years in the late 2000s).  Terms of the contract haven’t been revealed, although it was once rumored that the length of the deal is ten years. The Naval Academy joins recently-announced Notre Dame under the UA umbrella, along with other past and future Navy opponents such as Temple, Hawaii, South Carolina, Toledo, Boston College, Northwestern, Texas Tech, Utah, USF, and of course, Maryland.

It’s that last one that seems to be causing the most angst among the Twitterati, with the fear that Navy will start wearing some of the crazier getups that UA has provided for the Terps over the last couple of years. That’s not how these deals work, though. Nike and Under Armour don’t dictate to these schools what to wear. Maryland wears these uniforms because they want to. It’s similar to the relationship between Nike and Oregon. UA founder and CEO Kevin Plank attended Maryland, just as Phil Knight attended Oregon. The two use their alma maters as showcases for their brands, while the schools leverage that relationship for marketing and recruiting. Just as every Nike school doesn’t dress like Oregon, every UA school doesn’t look like Maryland. Each school has plenty of input into the process and ultimately decides what gets put onto the field. Most UA schools have maintained something close to their traditional looks. For all the hype about Maryland’s rebranding, Northwestern’s was one of the sharpest and classiest in the game. I’m sure there will be special one-time uniforms that some people don’t like, but some people didn’t like Nike’s Army-Navy uniforms either. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

One of the most important elements to this deal is that it’s for all sports. In the past, with different sports having separate deals with multiple manufacturers, there was a somewhat inconsistent look for the athletic department. Some teams wore blue and gold, while others wore more of a blue and yellow, for example. With one manufacturer willing to pay for all of Navy’s sports, it gives the school the ability to promote a more consistent brand image across the board. A more consistent brand sends a louder message, which is very important to any school, especially a service academy like Navy.

Still, despite all the benefits, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the move is a little bittersweet. Nike was very, very good to Navy. I haven’t exactly been subtle in my praise for the Army-Navy uniforms of the last two years. Even if my desire to make them permanent was always going to be a pipe dream, it’s still a little sad for me to know that there’s no way it can possibly happen now.

In the end, it’s just business. Along those lines, the decision to move to UA reminds me of another recent business decision from NAAA. Nike is the unquestioned leader of their industry, much like ESPN was when they were bidding for the television rights to Navy’s home football games. Instead of going with the more established company, though, Navy decided to sign with upstart CSTV. It was a great call. CSTV eventually morphed into the CBS Sports Network, but no matter what they called themselves at the time, they’ve always treated the Naval Academy like kings. As the network grew, they took Navy along for the ride. Hopefully, signing with another hungry up-and-comer in Under Armour will pay similar dividends.

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ARMY WEEK: LET’S TALK UNIFORMS

I assume that by now you’ve all seen what Navy will be wearing at Saturday’s Army-Navy game. If not, then point your face at these glorious images and bask in their warm glow of excellence.

These are the home version of last year’s equally fantastic Nike uniforms, and I sort of wish that this was our permanent setup. It’s modern, yet still restrained, and undeniably Navy. I know some of you don’t like the look, and it’s understandable. You can’t be blamed for your horrible taste. What one could be blamed for, however, is saying that you don’t want something new because of “tradition.” Navy’s only uniform tradition is one of constant change. Sometimes it’s evolutionary, sometimes it’s revolutionary, but it’s always changing. The uniform that Navy wears now is different from the one from ten years ago, which was different from the one from ten years before that. Designs have changed, colors have changed, helmets have changed. We’ve seen all manner of combinations of blue, gold, and white between shirts and pants, complete with various stripes and shoulder hoops and patches and whatever else you can think of. Then there’s the helmets, which have had anchors (awesome, awesome anchors), numbers, and stripes at times over the years. And all that is before you factor in what Navy has worn for the Army-Navy game, which has had all kinds of bonkers stuff. And that’s Navy’s uniform tradition: to have fun with them. Despite what the “down in front” sourpuss that sits behind you at NMCMS and leaves at halftime says, football should be fun.

When people say “tradition,” what they’re really saying is that they want Navy to be plain. That’s fine if that’s your taste, but it’s not the same as tradition. Did Navy fans of the ’40s complain that uniforms didn’t look like this anymore? I don’t know, but if they did I’m glad that nobody listened to them. Navy isn’t Alabama or Penn State, where the traditional football uniform is part of the brand image of the program (and the school for that matter). Navy’s brand is defined by other things. That doesn’t mean that any change is great simply because it’s new; there’s a certain classiness that we want to convey, and nobody wants to look at a jumbled mess. But if something sharp comes along that helps showcase the Navy team, I say go for it. If you don’t like it, don’t worry. It’ll probably change in a few years anyway.

(Seriously, though. Anchors.)