Here are the basic terms:
UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre has signed a multi-year endorsement deal with performance apparel leader Under Armour, the company announced Thursday.
St. Pierre, 28, will become the face of Under Armour’s popular BoxerJock and BoxerBrief Underwear line this Spring, and will be featured in a multi-platform advertising campaign for its ColdGear apparel line this holiday season, as well its Recharge post-workout suit campaign.
By "multi-platform", Under Armor intends to do this:
St-Pierre, whom Battista described as "the Michael Jordan of MMA," will be featured on in-store packaging, as well as in print, TV and Internet advertising that begins this holiday shopping season.
If you're curious about where this places St. Pierre among the other athletes Under Armor sponsors, here's the list:
St. Pierre joins Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Lewis, New York Giants’ Brandon Jacobs, Chicago Cubs’ Alfonso Soriano, lacrosse superstar Paul Rabil, and U.S. Olympian Lindsey Jacobellis among Under Armour’s current spokespersons.
Josh Gross's piece over at Sports Illustrated adds context to what this all means:
"I see him representing the brand across the board," said Under Armour Senior Vice President Steve Battista. "I think he's got an appeal that transcends mixed martial arts. I think he represents a whole new style of training and, really, whole new mentality about his sport."
That's exactly how manager Shari Spencer envisioned selling St. Pierre to major corporate sponsors when she took on the fighter as her sole client two years ago. In a sport whose athletes find success more with fringe than mainstream companies, Spencer felt St. Pierre embodied the kind of attributes -- natural fighting talent, a throwback demeanor, good looks and a clean reputation -- that could change the corporate world's perception of MMA.
Spencer deliberately avoided aligning St. Pierre with niche MMA brands that, despite putting money in the fighter's pockets in the short term, would have prolonged the outlaw stigma the sport yields.
"There were a lot of people sitting back saying this wasn't going to work, the brands weren't going to be there," Spencer said. "And I did turn down money within the industry. Georges was there beside me and he trusted my guidance. It wasn't so much Georges I had to convince."
The key, said Spencer, was getting St. Pierre viewed as an athlete first and fighter second. Recognizing the limited window that exists to maximize an athlete's earnings, especially those participating in sports as physically demanding as St. Pierre's, Spencer sought out the resources of Creative Artists Agency to accelerate opportunities for her client. It took about six months before CAA figured out MMA's relevance in the overall sports world and how it could work in the space. It also didn't hurt that the co-head of CAA sports, Howard Nuchow, fell in love with the combat sport after in-depth conversations with the late Tapout founder, Charles "Mask" Lewis.
And as Mike Chiappetta pointed out on Twitter today, with Under Armor leading the charge, can Nike and Adidas be too far behind? In Japan, they are already on board. Just ask Caol Uno, Yoshihiro Akiyama and many others.
I've said it once and I'll say it again: there are certain rough realities about MMA that preclude it from becoming as meaningful or large as other mainstream sports, but MMA is far more palatable than people give it credit. If we wish to dress up MMA in atmospherics of blood and gore with a parade of endless t-shirt companies that vary between themes of thuggery and counter-culture zeitgeist, then that's exactly where MMA will remain.
Instead, if we open MMA to the masses by promoting the laudable human elements other sports thrive on - discipline, hard work, sacrifice, personal growth, self improvement, athletic heroism and other positive/redemptive qualities - then we can push this sport closer to crowds that find those characteristics and values appealing.
There is a ceiling on how far it can be pushed, sure, but we only limit ourselves by throwing up our hands and letting the "Rape Your Mother" or "Dump Your Body In A Shallow Grave" t-shirt companies of this sport dictate imagery and appearance. If we want MMA to be a carnival filled with carnies, it's very easy to achieve and there are enough of those types of people to make the sport at least somewhat commercially viable. But if we want to chase the big money with the big audiences and achieve real respect and footing among the masses, finding ways to articulate MMA by emphasizing the commonalities of our sport with their interests and values seems the far smarter way to go.
Not every fighter is St. Pierre and as much as it pains me to admit, the horrendous and gawdy imagery presently inundating MMA have some place. The question, though, is where that placement should be and how central to the larger sporting image that imagery actually is. When a fighter like St. Pierre is able to achieve serious mainstream endorsement deals, he at least partially breaks open the door for others (as does Couture with Everlast). If we clean up our act and rethink how we choose to present ourselves, we might be very surprised at who else can benefit and where this road can take us.