Michigan-Nike partnership matters in Big Ten hierarchy


The Maize and Blue Swoosh is a powerful symbol, perhaps the most lucrative logo in college athletics -- and it’s coming back to the Big Ten.

Nike and the University of Michigan announced an agreement Monday for an 11-year apparel contract (with a U-M option to make it 15 years), starting Aug. 1, 2016. The Wolverines, after parting ways with Nike in 2007, are dumping Adidas next year.

Adidas paid Michigan well -- $8.2 million annually in cash and gear. Ohio State, by comparison, receives in the range of $4 million each year from Nike, similar to recent Adidas-defector Tennessee, Texas and Florida State, which receives $4.4 million annually from Nike to rank as its highest-paid partner, according to the Portland Business Journal.

Maryland is paid $4.3 million by Under Armour as part of an agreement signed last fall. Nebraska receives $4 million from Adidas in its deal, extended in 2013.

Michigan reportedly met this spring with Nike and Under Armour.

Financial details of the Michigan agreement will be released next week, according to the school. Though the Wolverines -- with the nation’s largest stadium and most-winning program in college football history -- figure to supplant FSU atop the Nike client list, this decision likely came down to more than money.

The Michigan-Nike marriage reunites two iconic brands. And with the influence of apparel companies at an all-time high in college athletics as a result of creative uniform combinations and brand awareness through social-media efforts, this agreement makes sense.

Under Armour signed Notre Dame to a deal last year believed to rank as the largest in collegiate history. As a private institution, Notre Dame does not release details. No doubt, Under Armour, with a list of schools that includes Auburn and the richest deal in the SEC, has gained on Nike in recent years.

The company’s annual high school All-America game in January draws dozens of elite prospects.

But Nike, now with Michigan and Jim Harbaugh, won’t relinquish its massive influence. Currently, eight Big Ten teams wear Nike. Maryland and Northwestern are with Under Armour. In addition to Michigan (until July 31, 2016) and Nebraska, Wisconsin and Indiana remain loyal to Adidas.

In Ann Arbor, the Wolverines’ football decline coincided with the switch from Nike to Adidas. Some fans blamed the uniforms. It’s a silly connection, of course, but why not go back to what works, especially when it carries weight with teenagers? While Adidas surely didn’t hurt Michigan’s recruiting, Nike might, in fact, help it.

This week in Oregon, more than 160 of the nation’s top prospects meet at Nike headquarters to compete in The Opening, a bonafide recruiting festival.

The 18 quarterbacks in attendance, including Michigan pledge Brandon Peters, make up the Elite 11 finalists. They are immersed in Nike's world for several days. It's a world in which the brands matter more than ever -- a world set to soon again include Michigan in a starring role.