Will Under Armour become the first national sponsor of Classic in the Country?

By Dave Mast

Is Classic in the Country ready to take on a large national corporate sponsor? If Tom Jenkins, Dave Schlabach and the Classic staff have anything to say about it, they are more than ready. For several years, Schlabach has talked about bringing in a major sponsor to the ever-growing Classic, which is widely recognized as one of the premier girls high school basketball showcases in the nation.

The question is, can they entice a major sports-related company to join ranks with them?

If everything goes the way they hope, that will be the case for next year’s Classic in the Country IX, and the corporation joining them could well be Under Armour. As Under Armour continues its status as one of the leaders in the sporting goods industry, it is making a huge push to promote its new line of footwear, as well as reaching out into the women’s athletic field.

On Saturday, Jan. 15, the company had two representatives visit Classic in the Country to see if the girls basketball showcase is something that Under Armour brass would be interested in sponsoring.

Heather McHugh and Shawn Casey, both women’s marketing managers for Under Armour, took in all the sights, sounds and goodwill of the Classic, and if they have anything to say about it, Under Armour will be involved with the Classic in some capacity in 2012.

“We will have to go back and present what we have experienced here with the powers that be, but I am pretty sure at this point that we will want to be involved with this event in some capacity,” said Casey. “It’s an amazing event, and it is exactly what Under Armour is looking to get involved with right now. The entire event is perfectly designed for where we want to take our products. It’s got great girls basketball, a huge following of college coaches and it draws a lot of people. Plus, we have been extremely impressed with the way they have catered to not just us but to everyone who walks in. It’s a first-class operation. We feel that teaming up would benefit everyone involved.”

McHugh said that Under Armour is currently exploring options to get more involved in women’s sports, and that getting into a grass roots operation like the Classic, which is big now but could grow even further, is a prime example of what Under Armour wants to represent. “This is the best of the best, and there is room to grow,” said McHugh. “Under Armour is always looking for the next best thing, and right now the push is on to promote our new line of shoes and team uniforms. It’s a very good opportunity.”

Under Armour has been in contact with Schlabach for about two years, and they have kept a vigilant eye on the Classic’s success, keeping their foot in the door, awaiting a possible opportunity to step in. McHugh said that Under Armour’s line of women’s clothing, shoes and accessories is just now starting to take off, and therefore they are seeking places to promote their product.

Having already lined up with The Best of Maryland, a summer showcase for girls high school hoops, both McHugh and Casey said that the Classic is a quality opportunity to showcase the company’s new shoes for 2012.

“It’s about creating exposure for Under Armour products, and getting people excited about what kinds of products we have to offer, especially in the women’s field,” said Casey. “A lot of people may not even know that we are marketing footwear and uniforms, and right now the women’s market is about ready to take off. We came here wanting to find out if this would be worth our time, and from everything that we have seen and experienced, it is exactly what Under Armour is looking to get involved with.”

Casey said that because the event is run so efficiently by the existing staff, Under Armour has no intentions of coming in and taking over. “We wouldn’t want to step on anyone’s toes,” said Casey. “The extent to which we get involved will depend on what Dave and his staff want to do. They’ve done such a fantastic job of setting this up to be successful. We would just want to come in and make it even better.”

In the past, Under Armour has not had the manpower to commit sending many marketers out to explore alternate business opportunities, but because of its recent push to branch out and get their name and product out there among the public, the desire to explore the women’s side of the game is growing.

“We’re hoping that we can forge a good, lasting relationship between our company and Classic in the Country,” said Casey. “It could be very special.”