Terps aim for substance and style

Uniform Success For Maryland And Oregon? (2:11)

Much like Nike has adopted Oregon, Maryland has been adopted by Under Armour. Mitch Sherman wonders if that's enough to turn Maryland into an Oregon of the east. (2:11)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The affectionately named Terp Tank sits tucked away around a few corners from the desk of the athletic director on the Plaza Level of the Xfinity Center, about a half-mile northeast of Byrd Stadium on the picturesque University of Maryland campus.

Four large LG televisions hang opposite the entrance on a dark wall adorned with a larger-than-life image of a Maryland football player covered in Under Armour-inspired designs.

You can't miss the cool factor.

Technological instruments measure the impact of the school's digital-marketing efforts in real time, flashing analytics on the mounted screens.

The unveiling of Maryland's Star Spangled uniforms, worn in the Terrapins' Sept. 13 home loss to West Virginia, for instance, generated 325 million online media impressions in 24 hours, including 9.8 million in social media conversation, according to Nick Lofaro, czar of the Terp Tank.

The value of such exposure is difficult to calculate, but Maryland is ahead of the curve in trying.

"Everything we do," said Lofaro, Maryland's associate AD for digital media and creative services, "is centered around our on-field image."

The driving force behind that image is headquartered some 30 miles north, adjacent to Baltimore's Inner Harbor on Locust Point near Fort McHenry. Under Armour, the burgeoning sportswear force nurtured from nothing by founder and CEO Kevin Plank -- a former walk-on football player at Maryland -- collaborates extensively with this new Big Ten institution to craft the Maryland image in ways that transcend the traditional athletic department/outfitter relationship.

Under Armour assisted on the ground floor of Maryland's rebranding campaign after the September 2010 hiring of athletic director Kevin Anderson, who witnessed elsewhere the kind of coordinated revival he envisioned in College Park.

"We want to be first in the marketplace," Anderson said. "We want to be an innovator in collegiate athletics. Under Armour wants to be an innovator in sports, period."

Between the two parties, Anderson said, "nothing is out of bounds.

"The sky's the limit."

Under Armour is a hungry player in a powerful industry. It exceeded $2 billion in global sales in 2012, with a stated goal to double that revenue by 2015, and it recently surpassed Adidas as the No. 2 sportswear provider in the United States.

In January, Under Armour signed a 10-year agreement with Notre Dame for approximately $90 million in cash and apparel, the largest deal in industry history.

It marked a massive step, no doubt.

But Maryland and Under Armour are inextricably linked through a dynamic that differs from the connection between the company and other star clients.

The marriage with Maryland, in fact, appears a unique and near-perfect fit. Under Armour is positioned to help the school in ways that Notre Dame, Auburn or South Carolina do not require. Maryland is a rising brand itself, looking to capitalize on energy from conference realignment, its location amid fertile recruiting ground and the cool factor fostered by Under Armour.

"Look good, feel good, play good. It's a mental thing." Maryland equipment manager Jason Baisden, the keeper of all the Terps' uniform combinations.

This story should sound familiar. Similar teamwork struck gold -- better yet, green -- in the Pac-12 more than a decade ago as apparel-industry behemoth Nike used the University of Oregon as a test lab to produce groundbreaking results that helped boost the Ducks to national prominence.

"Being here," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said, "how could you not notice that?"

As the reach of Under Armour expands, so grows Maryland's potential. Beneath the surface of its middling football success lurks a giant.

Underestimate the potential reach of Under Armour at your own risk.

"Frankly," Plank said in a recent "SportsCenter" special, "we're not done until we're the No. 1 brand in the world."

The presence of Under Armour at Maryland is immense. From recruits to players, coaches and administrators, a mantra exists.

"Look good, feel good, play good," said equipment manager Jason Baisden, the keeper of secrets before every new look is uncovered. "It's a mental thing."

And it begs the question: Could the Terrapins leverage the power of Under Armour to become Oregon of the East?

Back to the future

The model for Maryland can be found nearly 3,000 miles to the west.

Anderson, the athletic director who hired Edsall, saw the monster up close. He grew up out there, with roots at Stanford and California. Ten years ago, Anderson served as executive associate athletic director at Oregon State, just as Oregon's Nike-fueled journey took flight.

Over the past decade, the Ducks are 99-26. You know about their trademark tempo and trendy uniforms.

Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight drove the relationship. His foundation pledged $100 million to Oregon in 2007. Nike made Oregon cool.

"Some people would say it's the monetary gifts from Phil Knight," said Mike Bellotti, former Oregon coach from 1995 to 2008 and athletic director. "But more importantly, it was the use of his company as a marketing firm for the University of Oregon."

Shortly after taking the job -- his first as a major college head coach -- Bellotti approached Nike because he wanted a few different uniform combinations. Not long after, as many as two dozen Oregon players visited Nike World Headquarters in groups, Bellotti said, to vote on new looks.

When the rise began, said Maryland's Anderson, "Nike was at its highest."

"Everybody wanted to wear Nike," he said.

The momentum at Nike, even as Under Armour grabbed market share, has not slowed. It reported sales in excess of $25 billion in the 2013 fiscal year, 10 times more than UA.

Back in Maryland, the Nike success and its impact on Oregon serve as a challenge.

"We don't try to mimic it, but we know that we can have that impact here," said Adam Clement, 36, Under Armour creative director for team sports. "[Nike] was the brand of my childhood. Under Armour is going to be the brand of the next generation. Kids who are starting to play college sports have been with our brand long enough for it to make a difference."

It makes a difference in recruiting, to be sure. Nike outfits college programs the likes of Alabama, Ohio State and Texas, but Oregon continues to wow kids unlike anyone else.

Running back Taj Griffin, committed to Oregon out of Powder Springs, Georgia, said he hears from friends and fellow recruits that he must have picked the Ducks because of their flashy gear.

"You know," Griffin said, "it wasn't even necessarily that. I just like the way they run things. But it was definitely a factor. Everybody wants to look nice when they're playing."

Look good, feel good, play good.

Such talk creates happiness in Beaverton, Oregon, 110 miles north of the Oregon campus. Perhaps 500 Nike employees, according to Bellotti, attend a typical home game in Eugene, Oregon.

"It was an understanding of the brand and the value of the brand as a recognition point," Bellotti said, "that allowed us to find a home, recruiting-wise, on a national level."

Nike and Oregon clicked from the start and often pushed the envelope.

Talk about a laboratory environment -- Nike has supplied the Ducks with hundreds of uniform combinations and a catalogue of innovative products. The two parties agreed on an eight-year extension in 2010 to pay $22.7 million to Oregon.

"Whether we're working with Oregon or we're working with LeBron [James] or Kobe [Bryant], it's never a matter of us stepping to the table and telling them, 'This is how it's going to be,'" said Brian Strong, Nike director of North America communications. "There's a back and forth that exists.

"What a lot of people see are only the designs, but it's about being willing to take risks. Oregon is looking for a way to inspire its athletes. And the mission, at the core with anything that we do, is to try to improve the athlete experience."

No one questions the results.

"There's always going to be that cool factor with them," said cornerback Iman Marshall, another coveted 2015 prospect out of Long Beach, California. "When you think about Oregon, that's the first thing to come into your mind."

A familiar formula

Edsall's vision for Maryland involves much more than uniforms. The coach wants his team known as much for its style of play as its look.

To be sure, Maryland's partnership with a deep-pocketed sportswear company alone won't propel it to Oregon status.

Maryland is 57-62 since 2005. It has enjoyed five nine-win seasons since 2001 and improved in each of three seasons under Edsall. The Terrapins scored their first Big Ten home win on Saturday, 38-31 over Iowa.

The Ducks of the early- and mid-1990s -- as Bellotti took over for Rich Brooks -- resembled Maryland of today. Bellotti built slowly before Chip Kelly took Oregon to the BCS title game in 2010, his second season.

Edsall recognizes the formula.

"We want fast athletes and quick athletes," said Edsall, formerly at UConn. "Get them the ball and allow them to make plays. I see us with a multiple, open offense but with an aggressive, hard-nosed, get-after-you defense, too."

Entry into the Big Ten boosts exposure for Maryland, Edsall said, leading to more awareness among the caliber of prospect the Terps hope to attract.

Under Armour also helps, as does its success story and its chief executive.

Edsall keeps Plank's personal cell number and trades texts with the billionaire, sometimes on the morning of games.

Plank, 42, started the company nearly two decades ago out of his grandmother's basement in Washington, D.C., while he played football at Maryland. The story has been told and retold.

On a Thursday afternoon last month, energy churned through the company's sprawling campus -- which occupies the revitalized former site of a soap factory -- as the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels buzzed overhead in preparation for an air show to celebrate the 200-year anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore.

Employees milled about the Humble & Hungry Cafe. Music blasted from outside speakers.

The brand is beloved in Baltimore and throughout Maryland. Inside the Gossett Football Team House, home to the Terps' football offices, you can't make a turn without eyeing the interlocked UA symbol. Plank serves as a symbol of the Under Armour victories and the spirit of his school's football program, an underdog fighting to rise. Like Knight at Oregon, he is a prominent booster, though not of equal financial magnitude.

According to a 2011 Baltimore Sun article, Plank was responsible for $1.4 million in gifts since 2007. It has grown since.

Anderson, the athletic director, so values his relationship with Plank that they converse about topics far outside the realm of athletics or business -- the balance of work and family, world politics and another Plank venture, racehorses.

Plank does not involve himself in daily operations at Maryland.

"He's got a day job," Edsall said. "He's a former letter winner who takes pride in his school, but he's not interfering. I just appreciate the time that I do get with him, because he's so busy."

Maryland displays a glass-encased photo in the Gossett building of Plank from his playing days as a special-teams captain. He designed the first Under Armour shirt in the summer of 1995 before his senior year.

Brian Cummings, Under Armour vice president of team sports, played with Plank at Maryland and quarterbacked the Terps in 1996, wearing the brand under his game jersey.

Cummings said he was the company's "first sports marketing asset."

"That was the spark," he said. "The best form of marketing is a great product."

Cummings believed in Plank from the start. Thousands followed. Millions now. Plank's success inspires belief, but it's about more than belief with Maryland. It's about loyalty. He has moved the company twice to accommodate growth since taking root in Baltimore and passed on chances to leave the state.

State pride resonates deeply. It's a unifying force from Baltimore to College Park.

"It fits into all that we celebrate," Edsall said.

The Terrapins' first UA-designed alternate look, the Maryland Pride uniforms worn in Edsall's first game -- a 2011 win over Miami -- drew considerable criticism nationally.

LeBron James tweeted about the uniforms. Positive or negative, the university could not buy that exposure. And in Maryland, reaction was largely positive, according to school and Under Armour officials, because the uniforms honored the state flag.

"When you're able to mix really strong relationships with really strong business partnerships," Cummings said, "you're able to do special things."

The recent Maryland branding effort attempted to create an image for the athletic program as bold, innovative and cutting edge. It matches Edsall's plan for football at the school and meshes well with the Plank vision at Under Armour.

"Our world has changed," Plank told Bloomberg TV in an interview last month. "We are the kids sitting at the Thanksgiving table, saying, 'I don't want to sit at the little table. I want a chair at the big table.'"

You can see why the partnership works.

It takes more than just cool unis

To see how Under Armour helps Maryland on the football field, take a look inside Edsall's office. Just through the doorway on the right side stands an armoire filled with footballs and memorabilia. Normal stuff. But atop it rest five Under Armour-designed helmets -- the Maryland Pride and Star-Spangled Banner looks among them.

Maryland, when the regular season ends, clears out the visiting locker room at its stadium to make way for a display of every unique piece of Under Armour gear it can find. Recruits who visit campus see it all.

Many visitors get an education on Plank, too.

"When you tell them the story," Anderson said, "it's phenomenal. It's the American dream."

The prospects Edsall recruits today, he said, have grown up with the UA brand, many aspiring to play in its annual high school All-America game in Florida.

"Look around," the coach said. "It's happening because of Under Armour's marketing. They're wearing the product, and now they've got a chance to come here and see all this stuff."

Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown and linebacker Matt Robinson worked as interns at the company in Baltimore last summer. The experience, Robinson said, helped him recognize the growing potential of Under Armour's importance in recruiting to Maryland.

"The emphasis is on trying to keep everybody home," Robinson said. "You branch out from there. Some of the things Under Armour is doing, it has a real impact."

Prominent recent signees, such as offensive lineman Damien Prince, receiver Stefon Diggs and cornerback William Likely, might not have noticed the Terps without the attention Under Armour helped generate.

Yes, it is a little like Oregon. Of course, Maryland must win to sustain momentum.

"At the end of the day," Robinson said, "no matter the uniforms you wear, it's whether you won or lost that matters."

Maryland in September announced a 10-year extension of its contract with the apparel company. Under Armour will pay the school up to $32.9 million in cash and gear over the next 10 years to outfit all of its intercollegiate teams. Though ties between UA and Maryland date to 1995, their formal agreement began in 2006 at the expiration of old contracts.

It's grown over the past eight years to represent an ideal union.

For evidence, enter the Terp Tank, which continues to digest data. Social media postings by Maryland and Under Armour in the 24 hours after the September uniform unveiling were shared more than 6,000 times. The overall sentiment was 97 percent positive.

Look good, feel good, play good. College programs and their partners are connected in this belief, few more tightly than Maryland and Under Armour.

"These are the things," Edsall said, "that help us get to where we want to go."