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Volume 24 No. 155

Finance

Shortly after MLB yesterday formally announced Under Armour as its uniform provider starting in '20, current rightsholder VF Corp. said that it is in "ongoing, productive talks" with MLB with a collective goal to ensure that its Palmer Township, Pa., facility -- home to the Majestic brand -- "continues to produce on-field uniforms for MLB for a very long time," according to a front-page piece by Jon Harris of the Allentown MORNING CALL. VF in a press release "did not address whether a potential sale of VF Majestic to Under Armour was in the works." VF Senior Dir of Corporate Communications Craig Hodges also "declined to provide further information because talks are ongoing." But VF has been "trying to unload the division that includes Majestic, announcing in March that it was exploring 'strategic alternatives' for its Licensed Sports Group business." MLBAM Senior VP/Corporate Communications Matthew Gould described the conversations with VF as "productive." NPD Group Sports analyst Matt Powell said UA buying or contracting with the Palmer facility "would be a good fit" (Allentown MORNING CALL, 12/5). 

LONG TIME COMING: UA Founder, Chair & CEO Kevin Plank called the agreement with MLB a "massive statement." He added, "This deal for us is one where we really get to lock arms, dig our heels in and say we're going to fight for this sport." MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred noted the "appeal" of the UA brand among youths. Manfred: "When we started talking about this deal with the owners, one of the single biggest themes that came back from them was they wanted the game associated with a young brand." Baltimore-based The Leffler Agency President & Owner Bob Leffler said that baseball's "international appeal" also plays into UA's strategy of "expanding through global growth" (Baltimore SUN, 12/6). YAHOO SPORTS' Mike Oz wrote one needs to "only look at social media to see the difference" between Majestic Athletic and UA. Majestic has 150,000 fans on Facebook while UA has 5.4 million (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/5). Manfred said of the deal, "It's going to be really good for the game. Kevin Plank is an outstanding individual, really excited about being a partner with baseball and those are the kind of folks we like to make a business deal with" ("MLB Tonight," MLB Network, 12/5).

MORE BANG FOR YOUR BUCK: ESPN.com's Darren Rovell cited sources as saying with a vertically integrated system under the new UA deal, which includes online retailer Fanatics, MLB teams will "make a higher royalty per jersey," as a "more streamlined selling process means fewer players from production to getting into the hands of fans." The deal "was the brainchild" of MLB President of Business & Media Bob Bowman. His dream was to "get a mass brand with major marketing power to have its logo on the uniform" while having a mass retailer like Fanatics "capable of ramping up distribution and speed to market." UA VP/Global Sports Marketing Peter Murray said that the deal includes "working with MLB on the brand's electronic-connected fitness portfolio, but the access and the parameters on the outward display of data that comes from that information has not yet been carved out" (ESPN.com, 12/5).

KEEPING TABS: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Sara Germano notes UA has "seen a downturn in sales of performance gear, as consumer tastes have shifted toward the casual, so-called 'athleisure' look." In licensed apparel sales tracked by SportScanInfo, MLB gear "ranked third among top leagues, after sales of NFL and college sportswear" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/6).

With concerns about ESPN subscriber numbers weighing on Disney's stock this year, RBC in a note has stated Disney “should consider divesting the sports network because such a move would create value,” according to CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla, who noted RBC also suggested “spinning off ESPN into a separately traded public company, selling the network in a taxed transaction.” Quintanilla said the report is about how ESPN “used to be considered the crown jewel, now it's considered a liability.” CNBC’s Jim Cramer said Wall Street believes “ESPN is now pulling down Disney stock.” CNBC’s David Faber said somehow ESPN has become an "overhang" for Disney "as opposed to a huge benefit" ("Squawk on the Street," CNBC, 12/5). BARRONS' Alex Eule noted the issue is that "cord cutting seems to be weighing on ESPN's business." ESPN charges cable companies "far more than any other channel" (BARRONS.com, 12/5). Quintanilla said for Disney, live sports have become a "liability when you compare it to movies and parks and products.” Elevation Partners co-Founder Roger McNamee said, “The world has, in fact, changed and now the leagues are in charge of their own broadcasts and that makes ESPN's role a lot less valuable than it was before Major League Baseball figured out how to present all of its games directly to fans. ... ESPN's outlook is really significantly less interesting than it was. The one thing I can tell you absolutely for certain is that if this deal happens, it will be great for the investment bankers. It’ll certainly be fun to watch" ("Squawk Alley," CNBC, 12/5).

BUY, SELL OR HOLD? CNBC’s Julia Boorstin said there are "plenty of reasons that it’s worth it for Disney to hold onto ESPN. Not just ESPN’s cash flow, but the fact that having ESPN gives Disney more negotiating leverage for its whole bundle of channels." Boorstin noted Disney Chair & CEO Bob Iger "certainly dismissed this idea of spinning off ESPN on Disney’s last earnings call." Boorstin was unsure of the value of ESPN if Disney were to sell it, but "it's probably worth less than if it's part of the bundle for Disney." CNBC contributor Karen Finerman said she was "skeptical" that Disney would divest itself of ESPN and would instead "put in the time in an attempt to fix it" ("Fast Money," CNBC, 12/5).