Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Auburn and...Adidas? What an Apparel Contract is Actually Worth

Last Friday, it was announced that Arizona State had agreed to terms with adidas, ending a 10 year partnership with Nike. ASU and adidas had previously worked together for four years prior to Nike outfitting all Sun Devil athletics in 2004. This news initially surprised me. Arizona State and Nike worked on a giant project to rebrand their entire athletic department prior to the 2009 season. ASU is able to break out multiple new uniforms each and every year, thanks to Nike. And now they have gone from that to being outfitting by a company many believed to be slowly backing out of college football uniforms. After reading about the switch, the reason became clear. Money. Well, that's obvious, but it's true. Arizona State University Vice President for Athletics Ray Anderson has been on record trying to grow the athletic department's revenue. Which is fine and all. But when you sell naming rights for the stadiums renovation project, not the stadium itself, you have to wonder where the line is. But that's for another day.



As this news began to surface, rumors of Auburn switching to adidas after the contract with UnderArmour expires after the spring of 2016 began to surface. Now, everything from here on out is pure speculation. There has been no information from either Auburn, adidas, nor UnderArmour. So don't take what I have to say as factual. This is all speculation.

As mentioned, Auburn's current apparel contract runs out in spring of 2016. Under Armour originally signed Auburn, their first big name brand in collegiate athletics, in 2005, with the 2006 season being the first in which Under Armour football uniforms hit the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The two entities signed an extension in 2008. The 2014-15 contract year entitles Auburn to $4.3 million from Under Armour ($2.5 million equipment, $1.8 million cash). To put that in perspective, and remember that these terms were agreed to in 2008, in 2014 Under Armour bid $90 million over 10 years to outfit Notre Dame, which so happens to be the most valuable collegiate shoe and apparel contract in history.
Click-Clack in 2006

So that begs the question, what does Auburn mean to Under Armour? That's tough to pinpoint actually. Auburn is still one of UA's biggest recognizable names in the country. As well as being the most successful football program under the Under Armour banner, with the Tigers reaching the BCS Championship game twice with the UA logo on the chest. But let's look at this from the uniform standpoint - as that is what this site is for after all. Since signing on with Under Armour in 2005, Auburn has only worn two different uniform templates. That has been documented here before, so I won't go into it at this point. You can read that here if you like. In 2011, Under Armour rolled out their newest template, and the Tigers were among the first to wear it. At the end of the 2013 season, UA began testing their newest template in the way of alternate uniforms for both Maryland and Texas Tech. Both teams have actually gone back and forth with the templates since then. Maryland has pretty much moved to it full time now. Now, what does that say for the relationship between Auburn and Under Armour? For most people, they don't think much about it. For me, on the other hand, I see it as Auburn not being the #1 program for UA, for whatever that reason may be. And it very well could be nothing at all.

After last year's basketball season, people started pointing fingers at Under Armour, putting a good bit of blame on them for the lack of recruiting and performance. Now, I don't believe that for one bit. Yea, it probably didn't help the situation, but there were other, bigger factors involved that hurt more so than a shoe contract. I have yet to hear anything good about Under Armour's footwear and footballs and basketballs from those involved at Auburn. I owned a pair of UA shoes and was pretty disappointed. Granted it's not an excuse, you have to remember that Under Armour is the youngest company in the apparel industry, starting business in 1996, and began producing shoes in 2006. I'm sure those early Nike shoes weren't anything special either. All that aside, a major company should still be able to produce quality products for their biggest clients.

Now, what happens at the end of the Auburn - Under Armour contract after the 2016 season? Well, the obvious answer is that they could continue their relationship, but hopefully Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs could negotiate some better numbers for the Tigers. But, like previously mentioned, Under Armour did dish out $90 million to win the contract for Notre Dame. At the time, many "money experts" were saying that if UA had bid much more than what they did, then they wouldn't make any profit. So would Under Armour even have the ability to bid much more for Auburn? This again goes back to the original question - what does Auburn mean to Under Armour?

Under Armour may need to Protect This Contract come 2016
Let's go back to Arizona State for a second. Their current contract with Nike is valued at just over $2.1 million. For comparison, Oregon's contract is worth just under $3 million, which doesn't mean a whole lot with the Ducks purchasing everything at cost. UCLA, an adidas school, as an apparel contract worth $7.5 million, considerable more money than the two Nike schools just mentioned. The top contracts per each apparel company are as follows -

  • Nike - Florida State, $4.4 million
  • Adidas - Michigan, $8.2 million
  • Under Armour - Auburn, $4.3 million
  • Russell - Georgia Tech, $2.3 million
Obviously, adidas is able to bid considerable more than their competition. Which makes you wonder what causes some teams to switch, like Tennessee switching from adidas to Nike for 2015, or Southern Miss going from Nike to Russell in 2013. During the "Under Armour hurts Auburn basketball" discussions back in March and April, it was always brought up that Auburn would be "just another fish in the sea" as a Nike, or adidas for that, school, and will always be a top client for Under Armour. Well, unfortunately, sometimes that just isn't the way it works out. Depending on the amount of money agreed to between Arizona State and adidas, the Sun Devils could move from a middle of the road Nike school to a very wealthy, higher tiered adidas team. Money talks. And, as in the past few years, quality designs walk. I've been critical of adidas' recent designs for a while now. Many are uninspired, tacky, and templatic. There is no creativity for each team. Granted the other companies are subject to the same "paint-by-numbers" practices, but not to the degree of adidas. The infamous tire-tread template adidas has been using the past year or two is not a good look at all - let alone the worthlessness of the actually tire-tread markings (seriously, they serve no function. They are pointless).  In terms of designs, overall, adidas is certainly at the bottom of the totem poll. 


Will Under Armour enjoy another championship appearance with
Auburn? Or will another manufacturer have a say?
The worst part of this is the sitting and waiting. There won't be any news whatsoever on this topic until talks begin to start. And even then we'd have to wait for the official announcement. And if Auburn were to actually switch next summer, it would be another waiting period to see the results of the change. When Nike took over the NFL contract, there was word on shortages of gear for each team. Taking over 32 teams, with 52 players each, is a big undertaking. Taking over an entire school's athletic department, with upwards of 500 plus student-athletes, is no easy task either.

Auburn and Nike aren't strangers either. Back in 1995, Auburn had agreed to switch from local Russell Athletic to apparel powerhouse Nike. Before any ink hit the contract, locals and government officials pressured Auburn into ultimately canceling the deal with Nike and sticking with Russell Athletic, who, at the time, was located in Alexander City, only about 45 minutes from campus. But if Auburn were to switch to the Swoosh in this day and age, for one, they wouldn't earn much more, if any more, than they do with Under Armour now. The top Nike contract is only $100,000 more expensive for Auburn's current contract. And with the teams Nike outfits, I don't believe that will be a possible number. And, as many people said before, Auburn would just be "another fish in the sea" with the boys from Oregon.

All of this is just to say changes could be coming to the Plains. As much as some as us don't want to see it, we ultimately have zero input into the outcome. Especially with some lucrative money on the table. Regardless, we still have a full athletic season, as well as the rest of this current one, to enjoy the fruits of Under Armour's labor.

2 comments:

  1. I disagree with the point about U.A. not being a hindrance. If you examine the situation in college basketball and the AAU programs being "controlled" by either NIKE or Adidas, you would have an entirely new article to write. When you have a child growing up in AAU wearing NIKE and the coach of that program gets a stipend from NIKE, that coach acts as an agent for the kid. Its a different animal in college hoops recruiting... you have to go through the AAU coach and not the HS hoops coach to talk to the player and if that coach has a chance to get the kid a scholly from a NIKE school vs an U.A. school, where do you think he's going to steer that kid? AAU coaches have tons of influence over these kids.

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    1. I understand it's a bit of an issue, but it's still not nearly the issue people try to blow it up to be. I've talked to multiple people involved with basketball recruiting, uniform businesses, Auburn and Under Armour, and haven't heard the slightest proof to any of the allegations people try to bring up. It's a crutch of an excuse at it's most pure argument.

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