Nike Deal is Canada's first

Fraser Caldwell

Sports Editor

 

Marauder teams will be sporting the swoosh for the next five years, after McMaster’s Department of Athletics and Recreation announced a long-term exclusivity deal with the world’s largest sports apparel manufacturer on Feb. 6.

The agreement represents the first such commitment for Nike in Canada, although such exclusive apparel deals are common currency in the NCAA – where schools are often identified by the brand their athletes wear.

Under the terms of the deal, McMaster’s football, basketball, soccer, cross-country and track teams will sport Nike apparel and the number of participating squads is subject to change in future years.

Perhaps most notably, the Marauder basketball teams will wear Jordan brand gear next year, and the merchandise from Nike’s flagship specialty offshoot – inspired by the legendary Michael Jordan – will be available for purchase on campus.

Access to the Jordan brand puts McMaster in elite sporting company, as only five schools in North America sport the iconic merchandise.

Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but it is widely believed that the agreement represents the most lucrative apparel contract signed by a CIS school.

McMaster’s Director of Athletics and Recreation Jeff Giles explains that negotiations between the university and its new partner began after the release of a request for proposal by McMaster in September.

According to Giles, several companies were impressed with the vision for the future presented by the university, and the Nike proposal that was eventually accepted was only one of a number of such offers.

“We told everyone that we weren’t looking for a typical, cookie-cutter deal,” said Giles. “We wanted a partner that was prepared to work with us through our brand and theirs to promote this university and the things that we do here. Part of that pitch was the way in which – for lack of a better word – we’re trying to reinvent the role of athletics and recreation at the university level.

“Nike and their Canadian distributor T. Litzen could see that we had some ideas and were going to do some amazing things in the next few years We got some very encouraging bids for our package. And at the end of the day, Nike won because they said that they would work with us in terms of branding up here. It was a vote of confidence from Nike and T. Litzen in everything we’re doing here.”

The resulting deal is one that resembles in many ways the exclusivity agreements common to Division I programs in the United States’ NCAA. For his part however, Giles draws the comparison between this most recent deal and those he negotiated in his previous capacity as the President of the CFL for seven years.

“Everyone looks at apparel as a cost, but nobody looks at it as a licensing opportunity,” said the Athletic Director. “Fans want to buy a licensed product – they want to buy wear the athletes are wearing. We did the same thing in the CFL. We consolidated everything – first with Starter, then Adidas, and then Reebok. We grew it to the point where licensing in the CFL is now worth $10 million per year – from almost nothing.

“I came into McMaster and said that we should be able to do the same thing here. We should be able to take all of this apparel and everything we do to outfit our teams and create a licensing opportunity. That’s what the Maroon Shop is all about.”

Whatever comparison one wants to draw, there is no doubting the importance of the deal, and Giles believes that his department’s agreement with Nike has opened eyes across the North American collegiate landscape.

“I think we’ve created some waves,” conceded Giles. “I can imagine there are some big time American schools that want to know why they aren’t Jordan schools. I can’t answer that question and I didn’t want to cause problems down there, but maybe we have.”

While the agreement presents McMaster with a definite financial boon, the Athletic Director stressed that the purpose of the school’s move to exclusivity was not profit, but rather the expansion of the athletic department’s efforts.

“It’s not about the money,” said Giles of the deal. “It’s about giving our students the best possible experience while they’re here, to provide the programs and services they need to have a tremendous experience. Doing that costs money. This deal works to help us expand those programs and services.

“Many of the athletic departments across Ontario are conducting sport reviews and taking a look to see what they need to cut while they feel tremendous financial pressures. We’re taking a different approach and asking how we can expand our services and do more for our students and staff. This just allows us to do that.”

For teams looking to attract new athletes, the allure of top-tier apparel could be a dealmaker. However, Giles was quick to voice his hope that merchandise alone would not motivate potential Marauders to relocate to the Hamilton campus.

“It can’t hurt,” said the athletic director of the deal’s impact on recruiting. “All that I can judge by is the excitement of our two basketball teams – how excited our players are and tell me that our recruits are. I hope it helps, but I also hope that kids aren’t coming here because they get to wear a Jordan basketball uniform.

“If that’s the icing on the cake, then great. We’re looking for dedicated student athletes and if this means that those athletes choose McMaster, then so be it.”

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