EDITOR’S NOTE: This column was written and published in the print version of our October issue prior to the developments at the University of Louisville. Instead of pulling it from our website – because you can’t do that when something is published in print – the Extol Sports team made the decision to publish this column online and in our digital format, too. Please keep that in mind. Like so many other sports fans, we’re waiting to see what happens next. –Angie Fenton, Extol Sports Editor-in-Chief
By Howie Lindsey of 790 KRD
A NEW PARTNERSHIP worth $160 million makes Louisville the highest-earning college program in Adidas history.
The new deal, announced in late August, will include 10 years of apparel and branding partnership between the University of Louisville and the global shoe brand at a rate of $16 million per season.
“Our new partnership with Louisville is one of our largest ever investments in sports in America,” Adidas North America president Mark King said. “When you think about college sports in America, you think Louisville. The athletic program the Cardinals have created is remarkable. These young athletes are impressive competitors in every sport.”
The partnership between UofL Athletics and Adidas will not only include clothing and shoes, but also facility enhancements and collaborative, widespread brand-marketing efforts meant to take the Louisville logo to an international audience.
While the $160 million is certainly headline grabbing, the more interesting story is where this deal came from and where it is going.
The deal with Louisville started nearly 20 years ago when Louisville Vice President and athletic director Tom Jurich was working to find a partner for athletics in the apparel business.
“Our first deal was if we bought two pairs of shoes, the third would be half price,” Jurich said with a smile. “We have come a long way since then.”
Since then, Louisville has gone from Conference USA to the Big East to the American and now to the ACC, arguably the nation’s top all-sports league. And along the way, Louisville’s elite athletes – national champions, Gold Medal winners and Heisman Trophy winners – have worn the three stripes that Adidas is known for.
“When we began our relationship with adidas nearly 20 years ago, we weren’t in the same shape we are now,” Jurich said. “Adidas has stood arm-in-arm with us through adversity and success. The biggest winners in our cooperative partnership have clearly been our student-athletes, who are at the focus of all that we do.”
King, the Adidas’ North American president, explained, “Louisville has been an important partner of ours for nearly 20 years, and we see tremendous value in our new partnership as we continue to shape the future of sports together.”
While Louisville’s success led to higher numbers in each subsequent apparel deal, Adidas’ rise as a North American power helped send the newly announced deal into the stratosphere.
Essentially, as Louisville built itself into a multi-sport national power under Jurich’s guidance, Adidas built itself into a stronger American brand.
Signing innovative shoewear designers and art and culture influencers like Kanye West, Kendall Jenner, Pharrell and Missy Elliott, Adidas transformed its image from European soccer shoes and shell-toes to Yeezys, UltraBoosts and innovative design like Tubular Shadow.
It has worked so well that Adidas’ stock has been rising for nearly two years straight and the brand just leaped Michael Jordan’s signature line.
“Adidas has overtaken Jordan as the No. 2 brand in U.S. sport footwear. This is an achievement I never thought I would see in my lifetime,” sports industry analyst Matt Powell of the NPD Group wrote. “Adidas sport footwear sales grew more than half for the month of August, and shares grew by nearly half, to 13 percent of the market.”
“Adidas basketball grew more than 40 percent, while Nike declined in the mid-singles and Brand Jordan lost about a third of its sales,” said Tonya Garcia of MarketWatch in mid-September.
Adidas’ rise in market share and stock price meant more money available for schools like Louisville, Nebraska and Kansas.
So that’s where this new deal came from, but where is it going?
Jurich was asked to name details at the official announcement and declined, smiling while saying, “We have big plans and we’re excited about our future together.”
Adidas wants UofL – and its other collegiate partners – to think outside the traditional box of teams wearing sneakers and gear.
Jurich said, “We are thrilled to be partnered with an enterprise who shares our passion for innovation, pioneering efforts, striving for excellence and simply doing things differently.”
Doing things differently fits with Jurich’s brand – he is always thinking five years down the road to see what is next in collegiate athletics. Part of Louisville’s plan is to continue its strong Adidas Interns program, where UofL students can learn the business of sports apparel with an inside look at the Adidas brand.
And what else will the deal include? Jurich and Adidas’ Chris McGuire said fan and media will have to wait and see.
“It’s not vague,” McGuire said. McGuire is Adidas’ senior director of sports marketing. “It’s just that our product timelines are 12 months in advance, so we have a lot of work to do on our end to bring those products to market. It’s a long process for releasing products. There’s a lot of concepts that are out there, a lot of different ideas, just not anything that’s ready to come to fruition yet.”
Part of the Adidas partnership announcement centered around Louisville Athletics’ new slogan, “We, The Future.” The slogan, developed over the last 18 to 24 months, firmly focuses Louisville Athletics’ vision on the future of its athletic programs.
“It is here the future of sport will be written,” the UofL mantra states. The “We, The Future” branding is all over Louisville’s campus and athletic fields this fall.
Louisville’s slogan fits hand in glove with Adidas’ longtime mantra “Impossible is Nothing,” especially considering “Impossible is Nothing” comes from a 1974 quote by Louisville’s native son, Muhammad Ali.
“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it,” Ali said. “Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
Most people familiar with the metropolitan commuter school in the early 1990s would have thought it impossible that Louisville would sign a $160 million dollar deal with an international brand like Adidas. But it happened this fall.
U OF L & ADIDAS PARTNERSHIP BY THE NUMBERS
$16 PER SEASON
ADIDAS HAS OVERTAKEN JORDAN AS THE NO. 2 BRAND IN U.S. SPORT FOOTWEAR