Under Armour, which signed Aaron Judge to an endorsement deal while the breakout New York Yankees star was still in the minor leagues, says it is negotiating a long-term extension with him as it continues to deepen its partnership with baseball.
Judge makes his All-Star Game debut as a starter Tuesday night after winning the home run derby Monday night.
"We're right now in the middle of renewing Aaron's deal," said Walker Jones, Under Armour's senior director for global sports marketing. "We're putting the finishing touches on a long-term extension with him."
After signing Judge, now 25, in 2014, the Baltimore-based apparel, footwear and fitness technology company signed another young star, Cody Bellinger, in 2016. Bellinger, 21, of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is also having a standout rookie season and will be playing in his first All-Star Game on Tuesday night.
The 6-foot-7, 282-pound Judge is batting .329 with 30 home runs. He has already topped Joe DiMaggio's record for most homers by a Yankees rookie. Judge could not immediately be reached for comment through his agency, PSI Sports Management.
Bellinger has 25 home runs in just 70 games and was also in the home run derby. His Under Armour deal will be up after this year.
Under Armour said it was unveiling special edition cleats for Judge and Cody Bellinger for the home run derby. The cleats have a Miami theme to spotlight the site of the contest.
Signing players to endorsement contracts is akin to picking stocks -- it's best to get them early for good value. The initial such baseball contracts usually span just a few years.
Partnering with not-yet-established players also creates brand loyalty, boosting the chances of retaining them if they become stars. Under Armour is in competition for such deals with Nike and Adidas.
Judge and Bellinger "immediately popped on our radar because of the markets they were going to be in," Jones said. "It starts with conversations with scouts that we trust, agents that we know. It's a collective information gathering process."
Jones said Under Armour looks not only for talent but "who has a good look, fits our brand DNA, fits our team culture. And then it's trying to guess what markets they'll end up in. You want big markets, obviously."
Under Armour's best-known baseball ambassadors include Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers.
Adding Judge and Bellinger represents "the perfect storm," said T.J. Brightman, president of A. Bright Idea, a public relations and marketing firm with offices in Bel Air and Sonoma, Calif.
"Not only are these two rookies doing things we haven't seen in quite some time on the diamond, but they are a marketer's dream duo," Brightman said. "Playing in the two largest television media markets in the country doesn't hurt either, even for a generation of fans who are cord cutters and are finding new ways to enjoy America's national pastime."
Under Armour will become Major League Baseball’s official uniform provider beginning in 2020. MLB owners recently approved the switch from Majestic Athletic to Under Armour. (Baltimore Sun video)
Under Armour has been looking to extend its baseball ties. It sponsors between 325 and 375 players in the majors and minors, according to Jones.
In 2016, it signed a deal to become the official outfitter for Major League Baseball – an agreement that it recently announced will begin in 2019, a year earlier than originally planned.
Players' uniforms are currently made by Majestic and caps are produced by New Era. Under the new deal, Under Armour will partner with sports merchandise retailer Fanatics, which was granted licensing rights to manufacture and distribute fan gear.
"Majestic always had great products and apparel," said Jonathan Jensen, a sports marketing consultant and assistant professor in the sports administration program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But Jensen said more could be done "to promote the game's young stars, which in turn can increase demand for baseball and MLB licensed apparel overall."
New Era "has done a nice job in this area, and with Under Armour coming aboard in a couple of years the hope is that they will be able to help take the game's marketing to the next level," Jensen said.
For that to take place, he said, "it has to start with young talents like Harper, Judge" and others.