In the living rooms where recruiting battles are won and lost, Jim Mora likes to talk with young players about football and getting a good education. Now, the UCLA coach has something else to mention.
The 15-year, $280-million deal his school signed with Under Armour this week ranks as the largest shoe and apparel sponsorship in college sports history.
“That resonates with a recruit or a parent,” Mora said. “They’ll think, ‘UCLA is really becoming big, big, big time.’”
The Bruin coaches have new bragging rights — and their athletic department has a lot more money — thanks to UCLA being in the right place at the right time.
The school’s current partnership with Adidas expires next year, so officials were free to begin negotiating a new contract just as the marketplace exploded. Nike had recently signed Michigan, Texas and Ohio State — one after the other — for record amounts.
“We knew that we were well positioned to cut a deal,” said Dan Guerrero, UCLA’s athletic director.
“This deal was about geography,” said Kevin Plank, who founded the Baltimore company in 1996. “It was important for us to plant our flag in L.A.”
The resulting agreement will pay UCLA $15 million in cash up front, said a person with knowledge of the negotiations who was not authorized to speak publicly. The school subsequently will receive approximately $11 million annually in rights and marketing fees.
Under Armour has committed to supplying an average of $7.4 million in clothing, shoes and equipment each school year and contribute an additional $2 million over the next eight years for upgrades at facilities such as the Morgan Center and the Acosta Athletic Complex.
“There is a major arms race going on,” said George Belch, a marketing professor at San Diego State, speaking about sponsorship trends. “Nike has dominated the market for many years and you also have Adidas … now Under Armour clearly has become a major player.”
As Plank introduced himself to coaches in a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning, the buzz on campus was marked by some apprehension. News of the deal stirred a lingering debate over whether college athletes deserve a cut of the millions their teams help generate.
UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen took to Instagram, writing: “We’re still amateurs though … Gotta love non-profits #NCAA.”
There were also concerns about how the Bruins will look on the field and court when Under Armour takes over for Adidas in the summer of 2017. Mora wondered if UCLA’s traditional colors and his football team’s shoulder stripes would be re-interpreted.
“I want a uniform that looks like a UCLA uniform,” he said. “I want our blue and our gold.”
In the past, Under Armour has made headlines — good and bad — for outfitting the Maryland football team in unconventional colors and designs. Plank, who played on special teams for the Terrapins in the mid-1990s, said his alma mater wanted to shake things up.
The entrepreneur repeatedly has pointed out that Under Armour is more restrained with Notre Dame, which it signed to a 10-year, $90-million deal in 2014.
“We don’t have anything to prove with a crazy uniform,” he said at a Tuesday news conference.
Off the field, the new deal comes at a time when the Pac-12 Networks remain in a costly stalemate with DirecTV. Conference schools have seen their television revenue fall millions short of initial projections.
UCLA bridged some of that gap by agreeing to a 10-year, $145-million extension with WME/IMG for its multimedia rights. Entering this school year, shoe money figured to be more significant.
Nike had already ignited a spending frenzy with three massive, 15-year contracts. First came Michigan at a then-record $169 million. Texas was next at $250 million and then Ohio State at $252 million.
“There’s growth in shoes and apparel,” Belch said. “That’s why they are spending so much.”
UCLA had additional leverage because high-profile athletic programs are in short supply on the West Coast.
Oregon isn’t likely to part with alumnus and Nike co-founder Phil Knight. USC is locked into deals of undisclosed value with Nike and Texas-based Silver Star Merchandising.
So UCLA fielded offers from Nike and Adidas before turning to the new kid on the block. Dollars weren’t the only benefit to joining a younger company.
As part of a relatively small roster of schools, the Bruins figure to share top billing with Auburn and Notre Dame, though Mora might tell recruits something a little different.
“We just signed the most lucrative deal in the history of college sports,” the coach said. “I think it’s unquestioned that we’re No. 1.”
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