College Footwear, Apparel, and Equipment Partnerships

Few relationships are as central to a college athletic department’s identity as the relationship with a footwear, apparel, and equipment partner. Partnerships with companies like Nike, adidas, and Under Armour not only help to shape a school’s image, but they can also be a critical source of revenue. From the companies’ perspective, college partnerships can play a key role in their overall sports marketing strategy.

As media exposure for college football and basketball has grown dramatically over the last 20 years, so has the value of sponsorships for top college programs. Compensation for that exposure primarily takes the form of cash, product, and royalties, but can also include less common elements such as company stock and marketing activation commitments. Athletic departments and manufacturers are often faced with tradeoffs as they evaluate how each form of compensation addresses their needs and priorities.     

Despite the overall upward trend, with many schools signing new agreements at values multiples greater than in their prior deals, competitive bidding dynamics have seen that growth become less assured in recent years. The marketplace is unique in that traditionally there have only been three or four potential suppliers, each with its own distinct set of priorities, motivations, and financial circumstances. This can lead individual suppliers to place dramatically different values on a given school’s sponsorship rights.

Understanding where a particular school fits in the overall sports marketing landscape, the timing in approaching the market relative to competitors, and the financial health of potential partners all come into play in determining the value schools generate from these partnerships. As athletic departments face increasing short- and long-term budgetary pressures, maximizing the value of their footwear, apparel and equipment sponsorship rights is a key step towards financial sustainability.       

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