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Big gain for Brady, straight from the retailing playbook

Tom Brady wore an Under Armour shirt after agreeing to become a spokesman for the firm. Tom Brady wore an Under Armour shirt after agreeing to become a spokesman for the firm.
By Beth Teitell
Globe Staff / November 16, 2010

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Tom Brady has seen the future, and it’s Ben Lukas, an unassuming 11-year-old from Newton.

“I feel like I’d throw better if I was wearing what Tom Brady wears,’’ said Lukas, who was shopping at Modell’s Sporting Goods in Newton with his mother a day after it was announced that Brady is ditching Nike and moving to Under Armour, an athletic wear company 1/20th the size of Nike.

Ben said he doesn’t play in Pop Warner, but, even so: “I want to wear what he wears.’’

In corporate speak, Brady’s move to Under Armour, announced last week, is a win-win. The deal gives the 33-year-old quarterback not only a multiyear endorsement contract but an undisclosed stake in the company, which can provide revenue after he stops playing.

For its part, Under Armour has nabbed an international sports and style icon. The company is banking that the NFL’s biggest celebrity will build awareness of the brand and help propel Under Armour from a small, second-tier firm to a major player.

“People are more emotional about Under Armour than they are Nike,’’ said Bill Sutton, associate director and professor at the DeVos Sport Business Management program at the University of Central Florida. “High school and early college kids are saying, ‘This is my brand.’ Nike is your mom and dad’s shoe.’’

Under Armour is, of course, making the most of it: “The wow factor he has with men and women and children alike is pretty special,’’ said Steve Battis ta, an Under Armour vice president. “When you tell people, ‘Hey, we signed Tom Brady,’ you get the same astonishment from male football fans as you do from their wives, and obviously the kids are excited.’’

Under Armour may not be a household name, but it has cachet among teens and preteens, weekend athletes, and Hollywood stars. The 14-year-old Baltimore company was founded by a college football player who got tired of changing his wet, heavy T-shirt during games. At first, Under Armour’s only product was a compression T-shirt to be worn as a base layer. Since then, it has evolved to include all manner of athletic wear, as well as pricey women’s jackets, hats for girls, and sunglasses.

Under Armour may be an up-and-coming brand — its net income was $34.9 million in the third quarter, compared with $26.2 million in the prior year’s period — but it pales in comparison with Nike, whose income for its most recent quarter was many times greater at $559 million.

People say they like Under Armour’s high-performance fabrics for summer and winter that can wick sweat or lock in heat. At the same time, the clothing is stylish: The attractive interlocking “U’’ and “A’’ logo says, “I’m ahead of the swoosh.’’ The company says its clothing has been worn by such luminaries as Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Aniston, and Halle Berry.

Brady has said he hopes his association with Under Armour will help him remain hip to a younger generation. “It’s what so many of the kids are wearing, and I like to try to stay cutting-edge,’’ he told Sports Illustrated after a photo shoot in Boston. A call to Brady’s agent on the deal went unreturned.

“The key is youth: the 11-, 12-, 13-year-olds,’’ company founder and chief executive Kevin Plank told SI.

If Under Armour’s strategy in tapping Brady is sound, soon you will be able to look for its clothes on a child near you — or be prepared to fend off begging. “It’s really expensive,’’ said Lukas’s mother, Sarah, who was trying to limit her son’s wardrobe expectations on their recent shopping trip.

True, Under Armour’s hooded sweatshirts for children go for $49.99, and shorts retail at $24.99, but who can blame Ben Lukas? Brady is a sports star icon. That is in part why style observers, sports marketing executives, and commentators were worked up by Brady’s move from a corporate giant to a much smaller company, after his contract with Nike expired this summer.

Brady will appear in advertising and promotional campaigns, and wear Under Armour apparel and footwear for training. He’ll debut a customized Under Armour Fierce cleat in games in the near future.

Some children are already so interested in the brand that they ask for it by name and give it as birthday gifts, said Mary Lou Andre of Needham, editor of dressingwell.com and the mother of athletic 11-year-old twin boys. “He’s the ‘It guy,’ ’’ she said, adding that Brady’s endorsement could help the performance brand cross over into glamour territory. “He’s got a model wife, two beautiful kids; they’re always riding those bikes. With all the Under Armour on, it goes from being a utilitarian product to a fashion statement.’’

Sutton, of the University of Central Florida, said Brady’s endorsement could help the brand appeal to women. “Tom Brady’s a really good-looking guy, real popular with the women, and UA is really pushing their women’s fitness gear.’’ Earlier this fall, Under Armour introduced a Facebook page aimed at women.

Of course, not everyone is worked up about Brady’s switch from Nike to Under Armour. In some quarters, the news met with indifference around Boston. Said Jeff Carney, 34, an insurance professional from Duxbury: “I’d be more interested if he changed barbers.’’

Beth Teitell can be reached at bteitell@globe.com.