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The Armoury What's new with Baltimore sports apparel maker Under Armour

Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles fell into Under Armour’s lap. What will it do with him now?

Nick Foles had a “Super Bowl Champions” ball cap on his head and his 7-month-old daughter cradled in one arm. The winning quarterback of the most-watched game in American sports kept beaming at the baby with the bow on her head in the dark-green color of his Philadelphia Eagles.

For Foles, the televised postgame image was potential endorsement gold — a just-crowned Super Bowl MVP and family man with a cute kid to boot.

It’s an image Under Armour surely will remember as it decides whether to make a long-term financial commitment to Foles, who signed a two-year sponsorship deal with the Baltimore-based sports apparel and footwear brand last summer while still an Eagles backup.

After Foles, 29, signed with Under Armour, he became one of the most unlikely stars in the Super Bowl’s 52-year history. He took over when starter Carson Wentz was injured in December and led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl championship, topping the favored New England Patriots on Feb. 4.

With Foles’ Under Armour contract up next year, the brand must determine what to do about the Super Bowl hero who fell into its lap.

At the heart of its decision on whether to re-sign Foles will be calculations about the quarterback: Will he be an NFL starter? Can he ever reprise his postseason performance? How marketable is his underdog story?

Some of Under Armour’s assessments will come later because the Eagles could trade Foles to a team needing a starting quarterback. Wentz is expected to recover from knee surgery by the time Philadelphia’s season begins, and he is the established No. 1. Foles’ contract with the Eagles extends only through 2018.

“He obviously has a contract situation next year with the Eagles, which would enable him to test the market,” said Walker Jones, Under Armour’s senior director of global sports marketing. “That would be a factor, what his playing status is and where he ends up.”

Under Armour believes Foles has an appealing story. An NFL journeyman, his career has included stints with the Eagles, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs before joining the Eagles again after the 2016 season.

Like Foles, Under Armour casts itself as an underdog as it competes against larger and more established heavyweights Nike and Adidas. The company’s marketing often emphasizes perseverance.

After years of rapid growth, Under Armour stumbled in 2017, as sales growth slowed amid store closings by key retailers, intense competition and changing demand for athletic apparel.

Foles often talks about overcoming adversity. The quarterback, who is taking online graduate divinity courses at Liberty University, has said he wants to be a pastor when he’s done playing. He wiped away tears at the Super Bowl while telling reporters how much he enjoys coming home to his daughter, Lily.

“You can turn on the news and see all the negative stories in the marketplace,” Jones said. “You have a guy in Nick Foles who has done things the right way. A lot of people will gravitate to Nick because of that.”

But the quarterback’s situation is unusual because “if he gets traded, he’s more marketable” because he would then likely be a starter, said Bob Dorfman, executive creative director at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco.

In the meantime, Dorfman said, Under Armour could promote Foles’ story about “coming out of nowhere.”

“But,” he added, “I don’t know what’s going to happen to him. Where do you go after winning the Super Bowl?”

Foles had long been a Nike endorser but decided to look around in advance of his deal expiring last June.

He sampled Under Armour and Adidas, saying he liked Under Armour’s products and the company’s smaller size relative to Nike.

“He was a free agent from an apparel standpoint,” said his marketing agent, Austin Lyman.

Foles was unavailable for comment, Lyman said.

“He said ‘I want to try Nike, I want to try Adidas, I want to try Under Armour,’ ” Lyman said. “He would love to re-sign with Under Armour and have a longer-term deal with them. It might be something we pursue this offseason if Under Armour is open to it.”

Jones said the company considers Foles “a great partner” and that “his [NFL] contract situation will dictate a lot of things. As he showed this year, he has the ability to play on a big stage.”

Under Armour declined to say how many NFL players are company endorsers.

“It’s a good number,” Jones said. “You could see over 100 guys wearing our product. Some might be product-only guys,” who don’t have sponsorship deals but still wear the gear.

The company’s most prominent football stars include Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a four-time Super Bowl MVP; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton; Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones; and Green Bay Packers receiver Randall Cobb.

Under Armour is at a disadvantage in NFL promotions because Nike is the league’s outfitter, meaning the brand’s “swoosh” symbol appears on all players’ game uniforms.

But players are free to wear cleats of their choice. Foles wore his white Under Armour cleats in the Super Bowl and earlier games. Brady also wore Under Armour cleats during the Super Bowl.

“Foles' performance down the stretch and in the Super Bowl was one for the ages, and it would be smart of Under Armour to leverage him locally in the Philadelphia-South Jersey area,” said Jonathan Jensen, a professor of sports marketing at the University of North Carolina.

Jensen said Foles “will likely remain tremendously popular locally for quite a long time” but wonders about his marketability on a national stage.

“Research shows that NFL fans are tied much more closely to their team than to individual players,” Jensen said. “NFL players aren't going to really sell cleats and Nike has the league-wide uniform deal.”

But Jones said Foles “is just a great story.”

Foles recently did an appearance for the company at the NBA all-star game in Los Angeles. He was wearing Under Armour’s new “HOVR” running shoes.

“We’ll have some other things coming up. I don’t want to get into specifics,” Jones said. “As you can imagine, he has a lot coming at him. His world has really exploded, in a good way.”

jebarker@baltsun.com

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