Memo: Brand Brady

The backdrop of the launch of the Brady Brand is a years-long shift in how Under Armour and its rivals are doing business. Adidas and Nike are expanding their definitions of brand equity while Under Armour is tightening the reigns. In February of 2020, 2PM wrote a deep dive into UA’s lack of focus:

There are a number of technical and financial concerns that Under Armour has ahead. With a new CEO in Patrik Frisk, there is an opportunity to course correct in several categories to include: product development, financial health, and brand management. The company that Kevin Plank launched from his mother’s basement has influenced 25 years of performance wear technologies but it’s no longer synonymous with the category that it established.

The message was a timely one. In October of 2020, UA announced a plan to cut back on wholesale partners (it exited 3,000 stores!), minimize discounts, and reduce its SKU count:

As it overhauls wholesale, the brand is also upping its focus on direct-to-consumer channels, where it plans to offer fewer promotions and discounts to fuel healthier margins.

This left the door open to the NFL’s greatest quarterback to go all-in on his own brand without infringing on his existing partnership with Under Armour, an idea that would not have worked as a Nike or Adidas athlete. After years defining himself as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play, Brady is now trying to lead another new brand to victory away from the gridiron. First, it was achieving notoriety for the TB12 supplement empire and now it is a focus on fashion retail. Tom Brady is redefining the playbook for the athlete-anchored brand with Brady, his new line of athletic and lifestyle apparel that debuts next week.

His launch strategy resembles that of a modern brand playbook: the digitally-native department store partnership of choice, the NIL deals, and the emphasis on direct-to-consumer and online storytelling.

In an interview with WWD, the Tampa Bay quarterback outlines how Brady will be sold at brady-brand.com and through Nordstrom. The collection will debut with 145 pieces in three categories, and will maintain a monthly drop schedule popularized by brands like Parade, Noah, Todd Snyder, and Drake’s. The plan is to steadily expand the brand into more upscale categories but for now, the focus is on athleisure and office casual.

Brady’s effort to build a DTC brand follows the USWMNT athletes and and Jimmy Butler’s BIGFACE brand. It’s important to note that all three brands used Shopify for their product launches. It is certainly a new era for athlete merchandising and brand development, with more control and ownership over his namesake brand. What’s notable is who he chose to partner with to create the brand and who he didn’t. Women’s Wear Daily outlined his partnership with Jens Grede, the brand creator behind Frame, Good American and Skims (the latter two of which have big-name influencer associations with Khloé and Kim Kardashian, respectively), who was introduced to Brady by longtime fashion executive Andrew Rosen. The line is designed by Public School co-founder Dao-Yi Chow, who it’s noted is not just a fashion insider but also a marathon runner. The group, collectively, is one that understands the function of sports apparel, the importance of style and how to build and launch modern consumer brands.

Missing from the project? Under Armour, which sponsors Brady. Now, you may understand why.

It’s a sorely missed opportunity for Under Armour, which had a failed launch into elevated sports and lifestyle attire with UAS and an earlier attempt to knock off brands like Ministry of Supply and Mizzen + Main. It dropped UAS in 2016 and lasted one season before the plug was pulled. Brady could have been UA’s next opportunity – the timing is better, and the face of the brand couldn’t be more influential in the sports world. Instead, UA was sidelined, which WWD addresses:

Brady opted to launch the brand with Grede rather than through his longtime sponsor Under Armour. The Baltimore-based sports company is now focusing nearly exclusively on performance sports apparel and its attempt to move into fashion in 2016 with the UAS collection, designed by Tim Coppens, met with limited success and was discontinued after one year. An Under Armour spokesperson said Brady continues to part of the UA family as an ambassador, as he has for 11 years, but said the Brady brand is his personal, off-the-field endeavor and separate from his partnership with the company.

Brady is setting up new rules for the options athletes have before them as they navigate the world of brand sponsorships, partnerships and merchandising. A macroeconomic shift in how his title sponsor does business (Under Armour is retreating from a fashion opportunity), the door is open for what may become a successful attempt to unseat Michael Jordan as the most astute figure in athlete retail (though it’s clearly too early to say). From the new site:

BRADY™ is the first technical apparel brand to apply two decades of pro sports level innovation and engineering to create a system of clothing that performs across every activity. With over 3 years in development, our fabrics and materials fuse natural elements with cutting-edge technology. Designed with the body in mind. Built to move, breathe, and sweat while you compete, live and recover.

Doesn’t this sound like a conflict of interest with Under Armour?

The renewed focus is working for Under Armour but at a cost of going all-in on the opportunities of the moment (though UA is now dabbling in NFTs). UA has chosen to set aside fashion, casual wear, DTC fitness, web3, and metaverse development – leaving Nike and Adidas as the go-to major retailers in those other areas. In fact, Nike is laying the groundwork for further expansion. The brand is currently going up against Lululemon in a patent spat over Mirror technology – demonstrating it’s fighting for ownership in a bigger Nike universe.

Brady seldom loses, these days. Which is why it’s even more incredible that Under Armour didn’t make an exception to their new strategy rules. It’s a decision that they the forefathers of technical fabrics may come to regret if the brand does what every other Brady pursuit seems to do: win.

By Web Smith | Edited by Hilary Milnes | Art by Alex Remy and Christina Williams

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