Winter Meetings interview with Rob Manfred, Kevin Plank

Winter Meetings interview with Rob Manfred, Kevin Plank

GREG AMSINGER: Mr. Commissioner, I'm going to start with you. This is an innovative deal, long-term commitment. How in the long term will this help baseball?

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: Well, I think that we see this deal as an opportunity to elevate our brand by associating with another great brand. Under Armour is a young, dynamic brand, and we think it's really going to help us in our effort to attract the next generation to the game.

GREG AMSINGER: Your company is 20 years young and this is it's first-ever league-formed partnership. Tell me about why MLB was perfect for your brand.

KEVIN PLANK: For us, we couldn't start in a better place. It is a big deal. Look, the four major U.S. sports leagues, they set themselves apart, and for us, we've had a long history in doing great team deals, whether it's collegiate deals like Notre Dame, Auburn, Maryland right here, whether it's deals that we've done in football over in Europe; this one involved the ability to take on 30 teams at once, and it's a landmark moment for our company and it's one of those moments that would not be possible without people like Michael Rubin and the entire Fanatics team that make this possible.

We know how to dress a team on the field. We've done that a lot. We know how to dress 30 of them at the same time, and we'll be (indiscernible) with that, and I'm promise we'll (indiscernible) but we've also got amazing partners that will help us make sure that the fans get what they need in a fast way.

There's nothing bigger than partnership, and that all begins with friendship and trust. And I'm really, really proud I think of our team fro bringing this thing home. Commissioner Manfred and Bob Bowman especially.

One thing we have to do in life is just make sure that we show our appreciation, and I tell that you deals like this don't happen with without very thoughtful, creative, innovative people trying to make this work.

We're kind of like Australia, we've got this little nation of guys that are fighting, sort of hungry entrepreneurial companies that are waiting to come, and thanks to Bob and thanks to Commissioner Manfred for making it happen.

GREG AMSINGER: There's a lot of momentum with Major League Baseball, coming off an unforgettable post-season, so many young stars in the game, much like the guys that are with us tonight. Did baseball's popularity and momentum, right now, help this partnership come together?

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: I think that we're an appealing target right now. We had an unbelievable post-season, great performances by a lot of particularly young players. I think it drove home the point to us that we wanted to be associated with brands that were young, hungry. Those of you who know Kevin and Michael know that those words fit very aptly with them.

And we're excited about this partnership. And, again, like Kevin, I should thank Michael Rubin for his role in this. He did an unbelievable job in terms of being part of a difficult three-party deal, and most importantly, my own guy, Bob Bowman, did a great job in terms of bringing this deal together.

GREG AMSINGER: I have two kids, one is 13 years old, and I go to all the sport fields and the courts, and I see Under Armour everywhere. And I know that with your Play Ball Initiative, getting kids into baseball at a young age is a big deal to you. Was that a driving force to make this partnership happen?

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: It was really interesting. When we started talking about this deal with the owners, one of the single biggest themes that came back from them was the idea that they wanted the game associated with a young man. One of the really appealing parts of Under Armour in the deal for us was that they had such deep and strong relationships with a number of our players already.

We do believe that in order to grow the game with young people, you have to have athletes and products that young people want to wear, and we think Under Armour is uniquely situated to provide us with those spots.

GREG AMSINGER: Why is it so important to get to these kids at a young age, the grassroots level, for Under Armour?

KEVIN PLANK: You know, it's where it all starts. You know, we think about it, looking at these -- we have got seven All-Stars standing right here, and first of all, they look great. You guys are mostly decked out in new Under Armour sportswear.

But it's a big testament to how young people look up to, especially coming off such an amazing -- frankly, the entire championship run all the way to the World Series coming down to Game 7, people want to be a part of things that matter. That's one thing any of us always want to do in life and teach our children about and teach all the young kids is doing things that are important.

I think that's what you saw this year throughout the playoffs, and I don't think there was a bad team out there. It really could have been anybody's year, but there were a couple teams that found a way to set themselves apart. Those are the things that always come back to -- I'm not a person that believes in surprises in life. I think things either -- we make decisions and either, A, allow them to go wrong or, B, prove them right. A lot of those lessons play out in sports a lot, and whether it's how people train, how the team communicates, how they respect their leadership, their skipper, all those different levels to what makes for a championship or a winning team, there's nothing like watching it play out. I don't think there was any greater story than what was written during the championship run.

GREG AMSINGER: You mentioned Fanatics, and this is a first, to have an apparel partnership, not just with the league and a performance brand, but a retail partner. What do each entity, what do they bring to the table?

KEVIN PLANK: So I think you talk to anybody in business right now and ask them, are you opening more stores or are you investing in e-commerce, and I think that's the way of the world.

So the ability for us to now react, and, frankly, 2020 forward, the vision that we have for this brand and particularly for this partnership is the fan wants it now. They want it realtime. The word we use in our industry is called hot market, and the ability to react to hot market is something that really gives us flexibility. As a company, we had not built out that muscle memory yet and it was a decision that, A, we can go at it and try and do it for the first time or, B, we can partner with the very best, and that's where, really, the relationship, the friendship, and the partnership with Michael and the team was something we really liked.

If we can do what we know how to do, of really dressing the athletes on-field and we can really take a leadership position as we have with innovation and technology and pushing things, as far as the game and protectors of the game will allow us to do from innovation with the uniforms. But we want to push that.

Frankly, the way that -- with having the best distribution partner out there, with somebody that knows how to do it. They have seen the big move a number of times, and it's something that's ultimately going to play out for the fans, and, I want to be really clear, for the players, too. We are going to have ridiculous product for you on field that will make you want to show up and go play ball.

Q. What kind of ridiculous stuff are we talking about?
KEVIN PLANK: To be seen. (Laughter).

GREG AMSINGER: 2020, that sounds like it's a long time away, but that's actually not. That's right around the corner for all the work you have to do for these guys.

KEVIN PLANK: Yeah, it's important to us that, I think there is so much tradition in this game. It is America's pastime. We have great respect for that, great respect for the style of play. But we do think there's things that can push and we want to do that in a measured way. In 20 years of business, we've learned a lot of things and we've brought a lot of assets, and I think we've learned the right way to do that, with being very thoughtful, listening first.

But we are a company that, you know, we believe in the mantra of, this is what I heard, this is what I think, and here is what we're going to do. We expect to apply those lessons to everything that we know about the sport and, frankly, as much listening as we plan to do as well.

GREG AMSINGER: How does a deal like this help spread baseball domestically and abroad?

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: Well, I think some of the things that Kevin was talking about, in particular, and you look over here, you look at those shoes over there. I think one of the challenges for our game is to make sure that we are flexible enough, always respecting the history and traditions of the game, to let our players show their individuality, to let them connect with our fans.

A shoe like the shoes you see over there are an indication of that player's individuality, and that's what fans want to see. We think that with new products, performance wear, wearables, that can give fans greater access to players, it will help us grow this game here and around the world.

KEVIN PLANK: I think it's a massive statement for our company. This is a reposition. I'm a believer of revolution, not evolution, and I think that this deal for us is one where we really get to lock on and dig our heels in and say, we are going to fight for this sport. We want young people playing it. We want them to know it. We want to help articulate that story and make sure that it's heard, and our job is to amplify it.

This is not a changing a tire in that we have to do; this is a car that's moving. It's going. Our job, our role, is to make those great assets and helping make sure we do a great job of baseball edit, which is an important skill for any company, any brand. People do lots of good things, but we don't just talk about the really good things but we talk about all of it. If we can focus on the great things and celebrate those and work to push for the right forward progress and things, that will make the game better.

As far as our company goes, our mission is to be -- the most powerful I think description you can use for someone is to be a global citizen and what that means. And with the commissioner (indiscernible) long-time efforts of bringing this game around the globe, but I want to be clear: Let's bring this game home too. Let's bring it to where kids want to play. Let's bring it to the cities (applause).