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Under Armour sees ‘lots of opportunities’ in college athlete endorsements: CEO

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Tom Brady, Stephen Curry, and Bryce Harper — these are household names in professional sports who've made millions as boosters for sports apparel brand Under Armour (UA). Soon, college athletes will join their ranks.

Under Armour CEO Patrik Frisk told Yahoo Finance in a recent interview that newly permitted college athlete endorsements offer "lots of opportunities" for the company, which he confirmed will participate in signing student athletes. 

But he cautioned that the landscape for such endorsements will change significantly over its early years, saying the company aims to ensure that the process works for young athletes in "the right way." 

"A lot of possibilities — lots of opportunities," Frisk says of college athlete endorsements.

"It's going to evolve," he adds. "You know, we're at the very, very beginning of this, and we'll see a lot of evolution over the next 12, 24, or 36 months. But we'll be part of it, and we'll try to make sure that we're having it in the right way."

An NCAA rule change, which took effect at the beginning of July, permits college athletes to benefit from their name, image, and likeness. 

The measure came roughly 18 months after California adopted the first state-level law allowing college athletes to sign such deals, and arrived days after a unanimous Supreme Court ruling that rejected restrictions on education-related benefits for college athletes.

After the rule change, a flood of endorsements from local businesses and national brands immediately poured in for top college athletes, including a $2 million endorsement deal for incoming freshman basketball player Hercy Miller, the son of hip hop artist Master P.   

The new policy could enable more than $1.5 billion in total earnings for NCAA athletes in 2021, according to Opendorse, a technology firm that brings together athletes and potential business partners, Yahoo Finance reported last month. 

“Brands and fans are eager and willing to pay student athletes at a clip much higher than we expected,” Blake Lawrence, CEO of Opendorse, told Yahoo Finance on Monday.

Under Armour cut nearly half of its sponsorship commitments in 2020 as part of a restructuring that came in response to COVID-19 pandemic. The company reported $361.6 million in such commitments for 2020, as compared with $679.1 million the year prior, Baltimore Business Journal reported

At Under Armour's annual shareholder meeting, in May, Frisk said the company was set to add new names to its roster of athletes.

Philadelphia Eagles running back Kenjon Barner wears pink Under Armour cleats for breast cancer awareness before an NFL football game in Detroit, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. Detroit beat Philadelphia 24-23. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Philadelphia Eagles running back Kenjon Barner wears pink Under Armour cleats for breast cancer awareness before an NFL football game in Detroit, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. Detroit beat Philadelphia 24-23. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Frisk took over as Under Armour CEO at the outset of 2020, after the company's founder and then-CEO Kevin Plank stepped down to become executive chairman. Born in Sweden, Frisk has held numerous senior executive positions across the retail sector, including a decade at the Aldo Group, a global chain of shoe and accessory stores.

Speaking with Yahoo Finance, he cautioned that work will be required to ensure that companies can work with athletes and universities in a way that benefits all parties.

"There's a lot of cooperation that's needed to help these very young people, sometimes, also navigate this," he says. "So there's a lot of conversations happening right now also with the universities to support them in this journey." 

"So we're going to do what we can to support the athletes as these opportunities come along," he adds. 

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