Swoosh switch: Arkansas begins 5-year deal with Nike

By: Brandon Marcello
Published: Thursday, July 1, 2010
Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett debuted the new Nike look for football during a photo shoot in May.
Photo by Wesley Hitt/University of Arkansas
Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett debuted the new Nike look for football during a photo shoot in May.

— Arkansas’ five-year deal with Nike may not be one of the largest nationally, but the potential for growth as the Razorbacks begin their new all-sports agreement today with the apparel and equipment provider has promise.

The Razorbacks end a six-year deal with Adidas today, signifying a major event during a period of transition that started with discussions between the university and Nike in October. A deal was signed in November, when uncertainty surrounded the future of Arkansas’ relationship with Adidas.

“We were fortunate that Nike wanted us,” said Matt Trantham, Arkansas’ senior associate athletic director for internal operations. “They wanted us pretty badly and in a tough economy, we were fortunate to get the Nike deal and for it to be what it was.”

Adidas’ operations reside overseas in Germany, and the logistics of Arkansas working out a contract extension between the company and its North American offices seemed daunting. Adidas never came to the negotiating table, Trantham said.

BY THE NUMBERS

The UA provides:

1 - Full-page, four-color Nike advertisement in every home game program

1 - Thirty-second pre-game commercial at Razorback Stadium, Bud Walton Arena and Baum Stadium.

2 - On-air mentions on the Razorback Baseball Radio Network

2 - VIP parking passes for each men's and women's home basketball game

2 - Tickets for each away football game

2 - Personal appearances by each head coach on behalf of Nike each year

4 - VIP tickets to lower east side of Razorback Stadium for each home game

4 - VIP tickets to east indoor club of Razorback Stadium for each home game

6 - Tickets for each men's and women's basketball game

8 - Tickets per round of the SEC, NCAA or NIT tournaments if Arkansas is a participant

10 - Tickets if Arkansas makes the SEC Championship and/or bowl game

42 - Tickets to one "mutually agreed upon home football game" for a hospitality event, in addition to eight VIP tickets already provided

The UA gets:

2 - Semi-annual sponsorship installments from Nike to be made on Aug. 1 and Feb. 1 of each contract year

RELATED: Changes, straying from tradition not expected in new uniforms

“It would have been interesting to see where we would be come July 1 had Nike not been as interested in us,” Trantham said.

It remains unlikely Arkansas would have been without a contract with a major apparel and equipment provider, though.

Details of Arkansas’ contract with Nike were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by WholeHogSports.com, but financial figures between the school and Nike were redacted via a “competitive advantage” exemption. It is believed the deal is not one of the best nationally, or close to the $30 million deal over eight years that Alabama signed with Nike recently.

Arkansas’ five-year deal, in a sense, is a test for the Razorbacks’ brand in an economy that has yet to significantly rebound.

There are two facets to the Nike payout — money and gear. Each agreement varies, with some schools receiving more money compared to product and vice versa. For example, Oregon received more than $2 million in products and $500,000 in cash from Nike during 2009-10, according to a report by the Oregonian.

Arkansas is set to receive more product than cash in the agreement, Trantham said.

“The Nike relationship, whether it was cash or product, was going to be invested in the product needs for our teams and programs,” Trantham said. “We didn't really have the value on cash because we were just going to turn around and spend it on product.”

But what really matters is the viability of Nike and the Arkansas brand.

“First and foremost, when you go out and recruit, the recruits are always wanting to know who you're associated with and who your sponsors are and they like the Nike shoes,” Arkansas football Coach Bobby Petrino said earlier this spring. “They are very good football shoes and that's something we're excited about.”

Arkansas’ athletes and coaches will not be receiving a deluge of Nike clothes, training gear and shoes today when the contract starts, however. The Razorbacks began ordering gear earlier this year, and equipment is expected to trickle in through September.

“We’ll transition our Nike full array once it’s all here, versus doing it one at time,” as separate shipments and pieces of equipment are delivered this month and in August, Trantham said.

The short timeline also did not allow Arkansas officials to sit down with Nike at length and discuss unique designs for football and basketball uniforms. The most important aspect was nailing down the right color tints, particularly the cardinal red, on the uniforms and settling with similar uniform styles the Razorbacks have traditionally been known for in the latter years of their contract with Adidas.

The contract with Nike covers all 19 sports, but will not include all equipment immediately because of pre-existing contracts. Footballs, basketballs, and bats and equipment for softball will continue to be provided by Wilson. Easton will provide baseball with bats, camp T-shirts and accessories, and baseball hats will be provided by The Game.

Meanwhile, women’s track coach Lance Harter and the women’s track program won’t have to do much during the transition. Harter has been under contract with Nike since the 1980s and reportedly earns an additional $15,000 a year as a result as he and the tracksters don the Nike gear.

But it’s not that easy for everyone on campus.

“When we were starting these Nike conversations in October, knowing that we needed to get ... a contract signed and now we need to order gear for our teams, we also had to understand the impact it would have on retail,” Trantham said.

More than 100 boxes of Nike gear were delivered to Arkansas’ apparel store, Hog Heaven, on Wednesday. The Nike products, like the delivery of products to the athletic department for the coaches and players’ use, will increase throughout the summer.

“Be patient. It’s coming. It’s here,” Hog Heaven store manager Robert Mann said.

Variety will not be as robust because of the short window of time for Nike to produce the new equipment after the school and company signed the agreement in November.

“The selection made available by Nike is usually made a year-and-a-half to almost two years before we order it,” said Mann, who dealt with an apparel transition when Arkansas switched from Apex to Reebok and from Nike to Adidas in 2004. “In other words, they're working on the next couple of years already — the array, the line itself.”

Mann, who closed his store Wednesday for inventory, placed orders for next spring last week.

Sales are expected to rise with the introduction of Nike products this summer, even though sales usually hit its lowest point for the calendar year in July, Mann said.

The positives, by all accounts, outweigh any negatives involving the hectic work surrounding the switch.

“Jeff Long and our administration did a great job of going out and seeing what the best fit was for the University of Arkansas,” Petrino said, “and how it was going to help us and support all our sports — not just our football team.”

Repeated attempts to reach Long, Arkansas’ athletics director, through the athletic department for this story were unsuccessful, but Long has shown support for Nike in a number of ways since the deal was signed.

Long, along with Petrino, wore Nike polo shirts during the Razorbacks’ spring football game in April and the athletics director has answered several questions from fans concerning the contract via video on the department’s website.

“We are excited about our new partnership with Nike,” Long said in a November statement. “Nike is the most coveted brand in collegiate athletics and has a tremendous reach in the United States and worldwide. We are proud that Nike has selected the University of Arkansas to be included in the limited number of schools whose agreement encompasses all sports.”


Get the latest Razorback news and views from Brandon Marcello on The Slophouse blog.

WHAT'S THE DEAL?

Arkansas' five-year contract with Nike as its apparel and equipment provider for all 19 sports was obtained through a Freedom of Information request, but financial terms were redacted. Some highlights from the 44-page contract are listed below.

Signage and banners

- Arkansas agreed to display, in a size mutually agreeable, banners on each wall of Razorback Stadium at field level and in both end zones of War Memorial Stadium.

- Arkansas also agreed to display Nike on the scoreboard at John McDonnell Field, in-game acknowledgments of Nike on the back walls of the home and visitor dugouts at Baum Stadium.

- Arkansas must also display a Nike advertisement on ArkansasRazorbacks.com and the Nike logo on both sides of the Razorbacks' equipment trailer.

- All initial costs associated with producing and installing Nike signage will be paid for by Arkansas.

“No spatting”

Nike includes a “zero tolerance” policy against “non-medically necessitated spatting” in the contract, which does not allow the taping of football shoes in any manner that would cover or obscure the Nike logo. If done so, Nike has the right to reduce the university’s scheduled sponsorship payments.

Nike’s exceptions

- Coaches wearing non-athletic footwear and apparel in connection with his or her coaching duties does not breach the school's agreement with Nike.

- Golf teams are allowed to use golf clubs and golf balls of their choice.

- Nike will allow and furnish an athlete another manufacturer's athletic footwear if he or she experiences pain or discomfort from Nike footwear, and "remedial efforts" prove unsuccessful.

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