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Welcome Back, Swoosh

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Nike Returns to the Michigan Football Uniform

Tim Biakabutuka

At the onset of the 2007 season, several things changed with Michigan football. Lloyd Carr was preparing for his final season, though no one knew it at the time. A loaded senior class of players were on the way out — Mike Hart and Chad Henne among them.

And Michigan began a nearly-ten-year contract with Adidas as the new licensed apparel provider, valued at $8.2 million per year — the most lucrative apparel contract in all of college sports at the time. That contract is up in a few weeks, and Nike will move in to take their place.

On August 1st, Michigan’s eleven-year contract with Nike will begin, a contract valued at $169 million. That’s still the most lucrative in all of college football. Bigger than Oregon, bigger than Alabama. Notre Dame’s $90 million agreement with Under Armour is the next-closest. Like it or not, apparel contracts have become an integral part of success in college football. Nike and Michigan are more connected than one might think, and to truly appreciate their return, a look at the numbers and shared history illuminates why it is huge that the swoosh is back.

When Michigan signed with Nike the first time in 1994, it was a seven-year cotract for $1 million per year plus some bonus money into other areas of the University athletic department. At the time, Nike was pioneering the concept of a major athletic program licensing deal, and Michigan was the biggest target around. Michigan meant national marketing exposure, big TV money, and the most recognizable helmet-and-uniform combination in college football. It only seems appropriate that as Michigan settles into season two with the biggest name in coaching, the biggest name in the apparel industry also returns to put their swoosh on the maize and blue.

It paid off before for Nike, because Michigan had some of the biggest moments in college football in the Nineties. Charles Woodson in front of TV cameras, clenching a rose between his teeth as Michigan secured a trip to the Rose Bowl in 1997. Just below Woodson’s left shoulder pad, a small maize swoosh, prominently visible.

Tim Biakabatuka torched Ohio State in 1995. Mercury Hayes caught a pass to beat Virginia in the corner of the north end zone earlier that year. Tom Brady beat Alabama in overtime of one of the great Orange Bowls. Anthony Thomas saved a phantom fumble against Illinois in Champagne. Phil Brabbs made the most improbable field goal to beat Washington. Mario Manningham caught passes to beat Penn State in Ann Arbor and Michigan State in East Lansing as time ran out or was about to run out.

All swooshes.

The financial implications have been previously released but are still astounding. Michigan’s deal with Nike has three main parts in the contract: a signing bonus for making the deal, cash over the length of the deal, and apparel supply for all 25 of Michigan’s varsity-level teams. Broken down, that’s $12 million for signing, $76.8 million in cash and $80.2 million in apparel. Football and basketball will also get to wear the coveted Air Jordan logo as well, which has never been put on a collegiate football uniform. That’s a recruiting advantage that pays for itself.

A lot of the highly-rated recruits end up at various power schools in part because of what they get to wear on the field. Nike’s The Opening football camp wrapped up recently and a glance at the roster of attendees reveals a theme: a lot of the players are verbally committed to schools with Nike contracts. Hardly any mention of Adidas. They’ve become an also-ran, with dwindling exposure and only a few flagship schools left under their roof. Michigan and Notre Dame have bolted, and Adidas designed itself into irrelevancy. Remember the zubaz shorts design for the conference basketball tournaments? Trey Burke and Glen Robinson III having more than one uniform literally disintegrate during a game? Multiple players’ football jerseys having large pieces torn while being tackled? If Adidas was secretly developing a tearaway jersey to make tackling more difficult, they failed at that too.

Michigan now has the holy trinity for recruiting to be able to properly compete with the likes of Ohio State and Alabama. There was a time when tradition and past accolades trumped the other two, but no longer. It’s uniforms, facilities, and the man patrolling the sidelines, possibly in that order.

Nike made history the first time around with Michigan athletics, and it only seems right that they go back to the promised land to reap the benefits of Michigan’s Harbaugh-palooza.

We only have to wait a week until the guessing can stop and Michigan lifts the curtain on the newest edition of the greatest uniforms in college football.

Welcome back, Nike.