There’s a reason that the Nike swoosh now appears more prominently on the Wichita State University men’s basketball team’s uniforms and shoes.
It’s the result of a new apparel agreement with the Beaverton, Ore.-based shoe and apparel company that was negotiated after the team made it all the way to the Final Four in the NCAA tournament last year.
A WSU official said the agreement is an improved version of a previous Nike deal.
Such apparel deals carry obvious benefits in terms of cost savings on uniforms and shoes, said John Brewer, associate athletics director of marketing and strategic communications for Wichita State.
“It absolutely is budgetary relief for us,” Brewer said of the new Nike apparel agreement as well as other agreements its athletics teams have with apparel makers.
Across the country, apparel deals with sports apparel companies can add millions of dollars to a college’s athletic department. At the top of the heap is Notre Dame, which according to ESPN signed a $10 million, 10-year deal with Under Armour earlier this year.
More common are arrangements in which universities get shoes and uniforms for free, or at discounts, but a number of well known programs, such as the University of Kansas, also receive cash payments.
Brewer said he doesn’t know the exact savings from the various apparel agreements WSU’s sports programs have with manufacturers, “I would say it’s probably in the tens of thousands of dollars.”
And experts said the deals WSU can cut could become even sweeter if the men’s basketball team repeats or comes close to repeating its NCAA Tournament success this year.
A winning team with repeated national exposure will do that.
“I think that’s a pretty safe statement,” said Andy Dallin, co-founder of ADC Partners, a northern California sponsorship marketing agency whose clients include the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies as well as University of California at Berkeley and San Diego State University.
The new five-year apparel deal for men’s basketball was negotiated last summer between Nike and WSU men’s basketball coach Gregg Marshall and his agent, Brewer said.
Brewer said the new agreement includes a certain number of uniforms and shoes for each of the athletes, as well as sideline apparel for the coaches, and other provisions for instances when a player’s uniform has to be completely replaced.
“I believe there’s an allowance if jerseys get torn or bloodied,” he said.
He said since before he arrived at WSU nearly four years ago, the men’s basketball team had an agreement with Nike’s Jordan brand, the logo of which is different from the Nike swoosh and features a silhouette of Michael Jordan with a basketball going up for a dunk.
Brewer said the team’s success last year changed the arrangement with Nike.
“They became part of the Nike Elite team,” he said, which is “a little more exclusive” than the team’s previous agreement with Nike.
“I think it’s fair to say that’s a benefit of, or maybe the result of, a Final Four appearance,” Brewer said.
Officials with Nike did not respond to calls for comment.
Brewer said WSU’s other sports teams have apparel deals, but they are done on an individual basis.
“We allow our coaches flexibility to choose what’s best for their program,” he said.
For example, WSU’s baseball team has a uniform and shoe agreement with Under Armour, while the women’s basketball team has one with Nike. Women’s volleyball has one with Mizuno. And its men’s golf team has an informal agreement with Ralph Lauren for discounted apparel, Brewer said.
In each case, he said, none of the programs gets a cash stipend for using an apparel company’s uniforms.
“We don’t receive cash payment from any of our apparel providers,” Brewer said.
Different apparel agreements for each sport and the absence of cash are not unusual for a lot of universities, including mid-major ones such as WSU, said Kristi Dosh, a Florida-based lawyer and author of “Saturday Millionaires: How Winning Football Builds Winning Colleges.”
“It takes that consistent appearance in bowl games or March Madness” for a university to get an apparel contract that outfits all its teams and provides a cash stipend, she said.
Dosh said that apparel deals are also influenced by which collegiate athletic conference a school belongs to. “Power conferences” such as the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference tend to have a lot of their games broadcast nationally, which means more and repetitive exposure for apparel brands.
“It’s about getting that uniform on national television; that’s exposure for Nike, Under Armour or Adidas.”
For instance, North Carolina State University is an ACC school but doesn’t have the provenance or consistent national exposure that a Syracuse University or Duke University has in men’s basketball. But two years ago North Carolina State made a four-year apparel deal with Adidas to outfit all of its 23 teams. The agreement included more than $5 million in Adidas products over the life of the deal and $425,000 in cash for each of the four years.
Dosh said it’s not unusual for individual coaches to negotiate apparel contracts or influence the richness of the deal.
“Some of these coaches are just savvier or more charming than others,” she said.
She said some of the newer apparel contracts can be influenced by the coach to the point that if the coach leaves a program, the amount of the cash stipend or other provisions can decrease with his or her departure.
Just how rich are the cash provisions of these apparel contracts? Dosh said they can exceed more than $1 million for schools such as the University of Alabama and Ohio State University.
Steve Shutt, associate athletic director at Wake Forest University, agrees that the greater the exposure, the richer the apparel deals.
“The higher profile the school, the more cash they are getting,” said Shutt, whose school has an all-sports apparel agreement with Nike.
From Brewer’s perspective, there’s also a less-tangible benefit to the university from apparel agreements, and that would be in the area of recruiting student athletes.
“We don’t really use that but we see it as an indirect benefit,” he said.
Dosh said that makes sense.
“(Nike, Adidas and Under Armour) are not trying to appeal to me ... they’re trying to appeal to 18 year-old males,” she said. “That’s the demographic they’re trying to reach – 18-year-old boys care about that stuff and having splashy new uniforms does that for them.”