Arguably one of the most progressive clubs going, St. Pauli are iconic for defining their own standards of fresh thinking. As they drop in with fresh threads, we caught up with VP and Managing Director Europe at Under Armour, Chris Bate, to chat about what the future looks like for this culture club of rock and roll cool.

As a statement of intent, what can you tell us about what this means for both Under Armour and St. Pauli?

I think it’s an interesting one. Especially if you look culturally, I think for us, in a good way St. Pauli are a little irreverent, they’re a little different and what we really liked about them was their appetite for innovation. A lot of the time, you can sign teams and it is very limiting in terms of the scope that you can work with but St. Pauli had a completely open mind. Not just in terms of what is on the pitch but externally, they’re very active socially, very active digitally and I just think it’s one of those partnerships that could actually lead a lot of things for the industry as a whole.

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How important is it to you to ensure you retain the character of this club in the apparel you produce? It must be a challenge…

I think it is a challenge but what’s important for us is that we have to make something that is relevant to both us at Under Armour and the club. In future, I think working together we can push the boundaries of design and we’ll probably push the boundaries of innovation and technology as well. The materials we’re using right now are fantastic and the styling is something we’ve really worked on and we’ll continue to do that going forward.

Perhaps it’s more of an opportunity to push the boundaries rather than a challenge then?

Absolutely. Of all the teams we could have signed, this one was the one where we felt we could push the boundaries more than perhaps than we could at other teams. We have signed teams in the past that just did not have the same appetite as us to change and were somewhat conservative. That feels more like a challenge. We want to partner with teams who want to innovate, who want to activate and be an active partner. Inevitably you talk about contracts etc based on the number of replica shirts you sell but for us, relationships and partnerships have got to evolve.

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When it comes to the day to day process in kit design and creation, it must come down to a lot of listening to clubs and fans. Is that fair to say?

Yeah. Especially with a club like St. Pauli. They are very vocal here and of course, that is very important to us. Sometimes design by committee doesn’t always give you the best result and I think we have a very strong point of view in terms of what we think is best, absolutely what the fans and club think is best too. We have two ears and one mouth and listening is critical to the success of finding the thing that works best.

You mentioned the selection process of choosing teams to work with, how important is it that they are the team that meets certain values as opposed to a team that’s going to sell more shirts?

Again, the whole replica sales thing - that is part of the conversation, naturally but it’s not the most important element. The values come down to the appetite of the teams we work with for doing things slightly differently. At the end of the day, it’s a results business and if you don’t win, you’re not successful. We want to be associated with winners, we want to do things in the way that gains the right attention. We always say “you have to have colour to earn” and we have to tell stories, we have to be create a little bit of disruption as well. There’s not a lot of teams out there that we believe can do that efficiently and effectively.

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St. Pauli has this amazing creative undercurrent, this is a truly unique club isn’t it?

The energy. I was completely seduced by this club when I went to see it for the first time. The art and culture, plus when you come to a game and you feel the passion of the fans. I’ve been lucky enough to go to World Cups and Champions League finals and stuff like that but this place in St. Pauli brings something else that is so passionate and so real. There’s a bit of an edge as well but most of all, it’s real. That’s what attracted it most to us as a brand.

What were your team at Under Armour like when you said that St. Pauli is going to be a team they’re going to be working with?

It was kind of like a fait accompli. We did quite and in depth study from the start of the process - when you’re planning asset investment you’d usually be looking more towards 2019 - 2020, we were two years out when we started talking about St. Pauli. It was virtually instantaneous. There were some assets that were available immediately that we could have signed but we consciously said “no, this is the right one”. In hindsight, it was quite a long journey to get to this point but the image and everything about the club, plus their ambition - we knew this was a club we wanted to work with. Looking back, it’s actually gone even better than we anticipated. We feel even more that we’ve partnered with a winning side than we did even more at the very start which is hugely important for us. It’s important for St. Pauli too, that they’re not just seen as this “culture club” but they do actually want to compete and win so that’s hugely important too.

The opportunity to go from the blueprinted beginning to launching the kit and a new season starting. It must be great to be involved in this side of the game for you personally?

Yes, definitely - I’ve been lucky and had a really good career, this is my 30th year in this industry and I think the important thing for me is that this is something to really help put something back. We’ve built a brilliant team at Under Armour and the recruitments we’ve made, really are top, top level people because we’re ambitious. This is all personally rewarding for me as a football fan. It’s not a hobby, it’s about ambition for me. I’m incredibly ambitious for the brand and we all believe that we can be a major player in the football world. This market is very much dominated by a couple of brands but I think that’s an advantage because we can compete on different terms and it means that we can come at the fight from a different, more creative place.

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Are there plans for more teams to sport Under Armour soon?

Yes, there will be more teams. We’ve obviously got Southampton for the first time this year. Aston Villa too, they’ll be with us as will AZ Alkmaar this season. We’re talking to other teams and we’ll see where it leads us. I think we’ll also have a really strong player strategy but it’s not going to be limited just to football. Someone like Anthony Joshua - he’s is an amazing signing. He is the real deal. We knew he loved Under Armour so we went down and met him, had a chat with him and talked about all the different activations we could do with him and it was just unbelievable. He is Under Armour through and through - he’s exciting, an amazing athlete and someone that wants to pioneer through innovation. That’s what we’re about.

Photography by Tim Adorf for SoccerBible.