Expert Roundtable: How Does UCLA's Move to Under Armour Impact its Recruiting?

May 27 -- Scout.com experts Brandon Huffman, Greg Biggins, Josh Gershon, Blair Angulo and Tracy Pierson discuss the impact the Under Armour deal will have on UCLA's football and basketball recruiting...

Scout.com's recruiting experts got together to answer some questions and discuss how UCLA signing with Under Armour will affect its recruiting.  The panel includes Scout.com's Director of Football Recruiting Brandon Huffman, National Football Recruiting Analyst Greg Biggins, West Coast Football Recruiting Analyst and Bruin Report Online Writer Blair Angulo, National Basketball Recruiting Analyst Josh Gershon,  and Bruin Report Online Publisher Tracy Pierson.

What do you think are recruits' general opinion of Under Armour, as compared to Nike or Adidas?

Angulo: Based on conversations I've had with several football recruits, Under Armour is running third in the apparel race but there is a belief that the company is pushing innovation and introducing new products that could be appealing.
Pierson:  I agree. Having teenagers who have played sports, they generally feel that Under Armour is, right now, the poor stepchild to Nike and Adidas. But I think that perception is changing. 
Huffman:  Unless they're playing in the Under Armour All-America game, you rarely hear recruits talking about Under Armour.  It's Nike (always has been, always will be), then Adidas and then Under Armour.
Biggins:  At least out West, most recruits you talk to would have UA a pretty distant third behind Nike and Adidas. They just don’t have a big presence out here and most would say their product, especially cleats, is inferior to other brands and something they wouldn’t choose to wear.
Gershon:  In basketball I think the UnderArmour brand is steadily becoming more popular. Steph Curry's success obviously has helped, but the brand's continuously growing investment into the sport at the grassroots level has played a big role as well.

There has been quite a bit made of recruits not liking the UA cleats or basketball shoes. Is it a pretty significant thing?

Biggins: Yes, it’s pretty universal among high school kids. They don’t like UA cleats. I’ve talked to several recruits who have complained about how they feel, that they fall apart and many said they would’t wear the cleats, even if they were given to them for free.
Huffman: It is. They'll wear the compression shirts and maybe some wristbands, but when it comes to cleats? Pretty much non-existent on their feet.  They just don't tend to wear them or go out of their way to pick them out.  There is a reason, too, that most high schools have their players outfitted in Nike cleats.
Gershon: I think the brand will need more popular players and lifestyle shoes moving forward, but the gear popularity is there for basketball and the Steph Curry line is a step in the right direction.
Pierson: I've heard it from high school players. The general feeling is that Under Armour, obviously, does apparel material really well, the sweat-wicking material, but they still have a ways to go in footwear.  We heard this, though, about Adidas cleats a number of years ago and now the UCLA players like the Adidas cleats. So, I think we can probably expect to see the same kind of improvement in quality of football cleat with Under Armour.  The deal with UCLA is a big one for Under Armour, and they now have apparel and shoe deals with many big-time college athletic programs. So I would expect them to prioritize on improving the quality of their cleats and basketball shoes.  And they have a year to do it before the UCLA deal kicks in. 

So you think UA will have to improve its gear, specifically its cleats and basketball shoes, to get recruits in the west to use them? What else will it have to do?

Huffman: It's all about marketing.  I mean, yeah Cam Newton wears UA, so that's good for them, but you can name 10 other elite NFL players wearing Nike and those are the guys that are getting equal play and marketing campaigns around.  Shoot, J.J. Watt is signed with Reebok and he's the best defensive player in the NFL (though his shoes are unbranded).  So even having elite players wear the shoes doesn't guarantee players will knock themselves over for them.  But UA will need to market and hit more West Coast players.  Guys from the Pac-12 or West going to the NFL need to have UA signing them.  A guy like Myles Jack will help.  Other top players will help.  And maybe have another school besides Auburn with Newton win a National title.
Gershon: More popular shoes will help, both with lifestyle shoes and signature player shoes. The gear probably doesn't make much of a difference.
Biggins: I think, in football, they will have to upgrade their product. I think they already do a pretty good job marketing but I’m sure that will increase as well. The main thing will be some of the teams wearing UA gear to have breakout performances from some key players and get people seeing that you can have success wearing UA cleats and shoes.

In your experience, has a recruit ever made a decision on where he'll go to college based on that college's apparel deal?

Gershon:  It happens far less than fans realize. There are a lot of reasons that kids choose schools but the apparel deal is typically towards the very bottom.
Angulo: I have never had a recruit tell me the apparel deal was the No. 1 factor, but schools such as Oregon have thrived on that sales pitch and established quite a reputation for outfitting its players with the latest gear (and in large quantities). The Ducks have capitalized on their Nike connection very well.
Huffman: For all of their innovation and cutting edge gear, Oregon still doesn't sign the highest-rated classes.  So while recruits like the gear and the uniforms and the presence of a shoe brand there, it's still not the reason kids are picking the school.  It's an added bonus in some cases, but they are going to go where they'll play, to a school that will best prepare them for the NFL or where they're tightest with the coaches.
Biggins:  I think, for the most part, kids are going to pick a school for so many other reasons than shoe affiliation. Football isn't like basketball, where there is that huge influence. In football, it has never mattered that much. Kid do love Nike, they love the product and the gear but it doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as things like early playing time, relationship with the coaches, depth chart, etc.

Even if it wasn't the deciding factor, is it a factor for some recruits?

Gershon: Everything is at least some factor but at the end of the day the question is to what extent? Is a basketball player from Los Angeles really turning down UCLA for a program that isn't as good because he loves Nike or adidas that much? Maybe if everything else was equal it comes into play, but how often is everything else equal? UCLA Basketball recruits itself and the brand is much bigger than whichever apparel deal it has at that point in time.
Huffman: I just don't think it is.  Yet, at least.  Now that you have more of a basketball type atmosphere in football, with traveling 7-on-7 teams sponsored by shoe companies, you may soon start to see it, but I just don't think it will be a huge factor just yet.

We've seen on Twitter, recruits like Darnay Holmes and Tate Martell openly showed a preference for UCLA to remain with Adidas. Do you think the UA deal will impact their decision?  Why do they have such a preference for Adidas?

Angulo: I don't anticipate the switch to Under Armour impacting their decision. And, if it does, I'm sure Jim Mora and his staff will be glad to have learned that about a recruit given that it's probably not a great sign. Adidas has been making a push in the grassroots department, sponsoring numerous high-profile 7-on-7 club programs and events. The arrival of Kanye West as a designer has also sparked a level of interest in the lifestyle shoe market. The company has been effective in marketing the "Three Stripe Life" on social media sites such as Twitter, and done a good job of pitching their product to the youth.
Huffman: I have a hard time seeing it really affect it.  Take Holmes for example -- he plays on an Adidas-sponsored 7-on-7 team and in the U.S. Army Bowl, which is also sponsored by Adidas, but is going to The Opening, which is Nike's biggest event in prep football.  Martell is doing the same thing (and Gorman was wearing Nike gear last season).  If they were completely loyal to Adidas, would they really be going to a Nike event?
Biggins: I honestly don’t think it will affect their decision but we’ll see. It’s only been in the last year or so that we’ve seen Adidas make such a strong push in the grassroots market for football. Adidas has sponsored a ton of 7-on-7 teams, including Pro-Way, a team Holmes plays for and his father Darick runs, and 702 Elite, who Tate plays for. I think the players like Adidas because of the sponsorship deal and the relationships they have made but, end of the day, I don’t see it impacting their college choice.

In Blair's story about the reaction of recruits to the Under Armour deal, many recruits said they preferred another brand, but were fine with the switch to UA.  Do you you think that's generally the opinion of recruits? Is UA actually the preference of any recruit, in your experience?

Biggins: I think even though UA wouldn’t have been many players' top choice, it’s not going to change how they feel about the school. No, I haven’t actually heard a player say they preferred UA over Nike or Adidas.
Angulo: I've never heard a recruit say that Under Armour was his favorite. It's a bit behind on the West Coast.
Gershon:  It's never a conversation I've had with a recruit and it's not something that has ever come up in an interview. No player has ever said to me, "I love the coaches, I love the campus and I love that it's a [insert shoe company] school."

In basketball, does UA having Steph Curry as a spokesperson help with its profile with high school prospects? 

Gershon: Curry's popularity definitely helps. But it's a small percentage. LeBron helps Nike, but no one is going to a Nike school purely because of LeBron. No one is going to an adidas school purely because of James Harden or Kanye. We're talking about something that helps a brand but ultimately plays a small role in why a player chooses a school.

What kind of presence does UA have in grassroots football and basketball in the west at the present time?

Biggins: In football, they have very little presence. There are UA combines but that’s really it. Of course, the shoe companies really haven’t had a presence at all in grassroots football until Adidas got involved the last few years.

Gershon: UA has two main programs in Earl Watson Elite and Splash City. EWE is doing a terrific job getting talent in Southern California and is growing quickly. Splash City used to be Team Superstar, which has produced players such as Marquese Chriss and Malik Pope in recent years. With UCLA and Cal both turning into UnderArmour schools, you can expect UA to invest even more resources into each of these programs, both of which are already on the upswing.
Huffman: There are UA combines and then the Under Armour All-America Game, but that game is so dominated by the Southern prospects, you could make an argument it doesn't really have a presence in the West.

An AAU team, Compton Magic, is an Adidas-sponsored organization. Do you think UCLA signing with UA will impact the relationship between UCLA and Compton Magic?  Would UA potentially pursue Compton Magic?  Earl Watson Elite is a UA team -- could this move Earl Watson elite into prominence?

Gershon: Compton Magic recently signed a new deal with adidas. That said, Compton Magic founder Etop Udo-Ema and UCLA assistant David Grace are practically best friends, meaning the Magic will continue to be an ally to the Bruins moving forward. There's no doubt, however, there will be a very good relationship between UCLA and Earl Watson Elite as well. Ultimately, UCLA will still sign pretty much everyone locally they would have anyway, regardless of the change.
Pierson: I've heard that Earl Watson, actually, is ecstatic about the UCLA/Under Armour deal. He should be -- it's his alma mater and the apparel company that sponsors his AAU team. It makes it quite a bit easier to envision players on EWE being recruited by UCLA.  

Ground Zero

In football, the Adidas 7-on-7 equivalent has been Ground Zero, with UCLA signing a number of Ground Zero players.  How do you think UCLA signing with UA will impact UCLA's relationship with Ground Zero?

Angulo: Not at all. A few years back, B2G Five-Star was the premier Adidas 7-on-7 team out West and it was sending recruits all over.
Biggins: don’t think it will affect it at all. This is the first year Adidas sponsored Ground Zero. All the players who signed with UCLA in the past did so without any Adidas affiliation at all. B2G was the main team Adidas sponsored and, like Blair said, players from that program went to many different schools. 
Huffman: Little to none.  Like Greg said, when UCLA signed a half-dozen Ground Zero players last year, they weren't even an Adidas sponsored team.  And like Blair said, when B2G was sponsored by Adidas, they had players going to a slew of different Pac-12 schools and national programs.

How do you think UCLA signing with UA in general will impact grassroots basketball and football in the west? Adidas has made a strong push in the 7-on-7 circuit and had at least as good a presence in AAU basketball in the west as Nike. Can you see UA trying to establish itself more? Do you think UA will now try to sign more AAU and 7-on-7 teams in the west?

Angulo: That would be the expectation. The 7-on-7 market is expanding and I could certainly see Under Armour making an attempt to do what Adidas has effectively done in recent years.
Gershon: Now that UA has both UCLA and Cal, there will no doubt be significantly more resources put towards West Coast basketball as a brand. It wouldn't surprise me to see more West Coast All-American type camps hosted by UA in the near future.
Biggins:  I think if UA is smart, they’ll try and get involved with 7-on-7 teams, much like Adidas has. Adidas has created a ton of buzz that was never there before in the grassroots football market. In the coming years, I think 7-on-7 football will only get bigger, much like AAU basketball, so I would expect both Nike and UA to get more involved in the coming years.
Huffman: I would imagine that UA will try to establish itself much more in the 7-on-7 circuit.  Adidas has obviously been doing that.  Shoot, the Nike 7-on was the premier summer event before it begat The Opening, so Nike isn't a stranger to the 7-on77 approach (though it was for scholastic teams, not travel teams).  If/when Nike decides to focus some efforts on 7-onh-7 (and there has been plenty of rumors it's coming sooner, rather than later) it will probably once again be the Alpha Dawg.

Have you heard about UA trying to improve its profile and get more of a "market share" of the grassroots environment in the future? 

Angulo: Not yet.
Gershon: UA has been extremely aggressive trying to improve its profile over the last few years and I definitely expect that to continue, especially in the west. 
Huffman: Not yet, but imagine it's in their longterm plans.
Pierson:  I've heard from some good sources that Under Armour is going to do a major overhaul of its grassroots efforts as a result of the UCLA deal -- that it was part of the deal -- to focus specifically on Southern California.  The plan is for them to get far more involved in SoCal 7-on-7 teams, and that they might even move the Under-Armour All-American Game to Los Angeles. I think we can also expect them to move some of their most prominent AAU basketball events to SoCal.  

 


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