Only one D1 FB program has an apparel deal with a non Nike, Adidas or Under Armour company. Why?
A closer look at Maine, New Balance, and what's next:
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We’ll have some more commercials at the end. For now, let’s talk about New Balance for a second.
A little while ago, I combed through dozens of apparel contracts from across the smaller schools in D1. While many of the details of those contracts varied considerably from school to school, they were generally still with the same big three companies. Every school I examined had an apparel contract with either Nike, Adidas, or Under Armour.
Except one. The University of Maine.
This wasn’t ALWAYS the case.
It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that Georgia Tech, along with several FCS programs, went with Russell Athletic, much to the chagrin of Yellow Jacket fans. Companies like Starter, Reebok, Apex One and Aeropostale all formally made uniforms for FBS football programs in recent memory, along with a few other companies you probably haven’t heard of.
But as best as I can tell, only one other company outside of the Big Three is making uniforms for D1 football programs, and that’s New Balance.
Take a closer look at the greatest schedule release graphic in recent memory:
See, up there, in the corner? That’s the New Balance logo!
New Balance and Maine have worked together for years, and it looks like that won’t change any time soon.
According to an amendment to Maine’s contract, obtained by an Open Records Request, signed on May 18, 2020, the Black Bears will continue their current contract through June 30, 2021. The current agreement also allows for two additional one-year renewals, , should both parties agree. The original contract was signed in 2016, but a New Balance spokesperson told me that the New Balance and Maine have been working together for the last 11 years.
The essential terms of the contract aren’t super different from other low-major apparel contracts
Like most other low-major contracts I’ve obtained, Maine doesn’t get a cash payment, like an Ohio State or UCLA might from an apparel company. Maine gets free equipment for their athletic programs and coaches, and has the ability to purchase additional equipment at a substantial discount from New Balance. Should Maine athletics hit certain benchmarks (like say, an NCAA Frozen Four appearance), New Balance gives them extra equipment. Maine commits to buying New Balance products, and gives New Balance ad space in the student newspaper, display ads at their stadiums, and shout-outs over the PA system.
So, why Maine? And why New Balance? I asked.
Maine might not be the most prestigious athletic department in the country, but surely they would have attracted interest from other apparel companies. So why New Balance?
Attempts to reach the University of Maine athletic department for comment were not returned.
A New Balance spokesperson told me that one reason their company was interested in working with Maine was because of New Balance’s deep roots in the area. The company is headquartered in Massachusetts, but operates three factories in Maine, and has supported the school even before they had a secured an all-sports apparel contract, like when they gave the school a massive donation to help remodel the fieldhouse and student recreational centers.
New Balance also pointed to how Maine athlete focus groups help the company develop improved products. Given how hockey is Maine’s flagship sport (revenue from hockey tickets far outstripped revenue from football and basketball tickets, according to Maine’s last NCAA financial filing) , and given the importance of hockey to New Balance’s Warrior brand of athletics equipment, working with a local institution makes some sense.
New Balance also mentioned that Maine provides tickets to athletic events to New Balance factory associates, which would be a nice perk for the folks who actually make the shoes. While it’s standard for the apparel company to get complimentary tickets to athletic events, I can’t recall seeing another contract or agreement that gives tickets to factory or retail associates.
Could other schools join Maine?
On paper, the more competitive the athletic apparel marketplace is, the better it is for the athletic department, as multiple competitive bids should generate better offers for schools. There are over 350 D1 colleges alone, and with Under Armor potentially retreating at least a little bit from the college athletics space, perhaps there could be an opening for somebody else, especially for a company that specialized in a particular niche.
New Balance hasn’t had much of a presence in college athletics for a while, but they’re still active in the athletic sponsorship world. In 2018, the brand made a big splash by signing Kawhi Leonard, and most recently, Dejounte Murray.
While the school told me that they cannot officially confirm the news, multiple industry sources told Extra Points that New Balance will soon sign the University of Denver to an all-sports apparel agreement, giving them a second D-1 institution. Denver does not sponsor football, but is a strong program in hockey and lacrosse.
Could anybody else join them? That’s unclear. On paper, Maine and New Balance seem like a perfect match for a one-off agreement, given New Balance’s ties to the region, and Maine’s focus on hockey. Perhaps another smaller athletic department with a profile similar to Denver or Maine could be enticed to make a switch.
Does that mean UCLA is likely to switch to New Balance after their divorce from Under Armour is complete? No, I wouldn’t bet on that. But every little bit of competition helps, especially at the smaller end of D-1.
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