The Maize school district spends up to $50,000 a year on uniforms for its middle and high school athletes.
Over the next three years, the bulk of those purchases will be for Under Armour brand jerseys, pants, shorts and other items, thanks to a new agreement between the district and the sportswear company.
As part of the agreement, approved by the Maize school board earlier this month, district officials soon will launch a website where shoppers – not just in Maize, but anywhere – can order certain Under Armour items at a 40 percent discount and help subsidize Maize athletics.
“Getting that community buy-in – we think that could be a huge piece for us, a huge benefit,” said Marc Haught, athletic director for the Maize district.
“The more of the product that is pushed out into the community, the better for the school, because we’re getting credit for those particular sales,” he said. “It’s something that is going to be a unique opportunity for us.”
Exclusive relationships between sports teams and athletic apparel companies are nothing new, particularly in the professional and collegiate ranks.
But athletic officials say the number of high schools and K-12 districts signing apparel contracts has grown steadily over the past several years as public schools look to cut costs and sportswear companies seek to extend their reach and increase their customer base.
“It’s becoming more and more prevalent,” said J. Means, athletic director for Wichita schools. “It really started at the pro and college level, and, like a lot of things, it’s trickled down.
“These companies have figured out high schools buy a lot of uniforms.”
Maize’s three-year deal with Under Armour comes after two three-year deals with Russell Athletic. Before the latest agreement expired, Haught said, he shopped around and consulted with coaches and athletic directors.
They decided to go with Under Armour in part because of the brand’s growing popularity.
“I walked down the halls of Maize South Middle School about a week ago, and I thought I was in an Under Armour showroom,” Haught said.
“When we talked about doing a district website and offering those deals in a more global way, with Under Armour we think we will get a lot more response from the community,” he said. “That wasn’t the only factor in our decision-making, but it was a significant factor.”
The agreement, which takes effect July 1, requires that when Maize buys new uniforms for its athletic teams, they must be the Under Armour brand unless the company doesn’t make uniforms for a given sport, such as wrestling or swimming. Coaches also must wear Under Armour apparel at games.
In exchange, the district will get discounted prices on uniforms and other Under Armour products, including some items not sold in regular sporting goods stores.
In addition, any purchase made through the district will earn “Under Armour dollars” that can go toward additional products. Haught said he hopes to use those rebates to help pay for coaches’ apparel, because Maize coaches are required to buy their own uniforms.
The agreement does not require the district to replace uniforms on any particular timetable, Haught said. And because Under Armour is “a fairly new player” in the athletic shoe market, it doesn’t require Maize coaches to wear Under Armour shoes.
“It’s a head-to-ankle” contract, he said. “They acknowledge that kids and coaches want their own particular style of shoe. … Every Friday night on the sidelines, you’re going to see our coaches in several different types of shoes.”
In the Wichita district, high school coaches or athletic directors negotiate their own agreements with apparel companies. Ever since Heights High School signed its first deal with Adidas about seven years ago, district administrators have authorized high schools to “do their own separate things” in regard to apparel deals, Means said.
Currently, four Wichita high schools – East, Heights, Southeast and South – have deals with Adidas; North High has a contract with Under Armour. Eisenhower High School in Goddard does not have an apparel agreement, while Goddard High School has a contract with Adidas that ends in June.
Details of the Wichita apparel agreements weren’t available last week, but Means said discounts “usually run in the 40 percent range.”
Rick Wheeler, athletic director at Heights, said only the head football coach is required to wear Adidas apparel at games and that clothing usually is purchased with credits from the company.
“Basically what it is is a promise,” Wheeler said. “They promise to give us a guaranteed discount on all of our cloth goods, and we promise to buy Adidas. But there’s no Adidas police walking around, checking our sidelines.
“When there’s a picture of our coaches in the paper, they’d like to see Adidas apparel on them. When there’s a picture of our kids playing a game, they would like to see Adidas equipment on them.
“We’re not talking about multimillion-dollar contracts like they have with Notre Dame and KU and Oregon and what have you.”
Wheeler said there are occasional opportunities for nonathletes to buy apparel at a discount, usually by ordering through e-fliers distributed by coaches. But so far there aren’t plans to extend discounts to patrons through a public website, as Maize has proposed.
Haught, the Maize athletic director, said downsides to the new apparel agreement are “very minimal” and most high school deals are more flexible than those at the collegiate level.
“They’re not binding, and they’re purposely not meant to be,” he said. “The athletes are encouraged but under no circumstances are they required – other than the uniform that the school is buying – to wear any particular brand.”