Friday, April 3, 2020

BYU football and Nike: ‘When you look good, you feel good’

The seemingly incompatible worlds of sports and fashion have become more intertwined in recent years. Over time, sports have acquired their own iconic fashions that turn heads both on and off the field.

Football games at the collegiate and professional level and large events like the NFL Draft have become focused not only on players and their talents but also on their brands, outfits and styles.

“We are passionate about our relationship with Nike, and providing our student-athletes with the best footwear, apparel and equipment in the world,” BYU Deputy Athletic Director Brian Santiago said in a press release. “Nike is synonymous with greatness, and in our quest for national relevance, Nike provides our athletes with a competitive edge to be champions.”

Four-decade partnership

LaVell Edwards and Phil Knight sit at a table together. (BYU Athletics)

Mick Hill, director of equipment operations for BYU football, has been with the team since 1981 and knows a great deal about the relationship between the university and Nike.

“This contract always grows; that’s what we like, and that’s what Nike likes. Nike has been very good to us, and we have been very good to them. It all started from the relationship between LaVell and Phil Knight,” Hill explained.

But things weren’t this way when Hill first started working with BYU athletics.

“We didn’t have anything with Nike when I first got here, it started right after. Edwards and Knight were close friends; they were the very best of friends. They had a great relationship, so our first contractual arrangements were pretty minimal,” Hill said.

He ran through some of Nike’s past contracts.

“The first year there were four teams under contract with Nike: Miami, USC, Michigan and Florida State. The second year they added nine more, up to 13 teams and BYU was one of those. Nike brought BYU onboard in 1981, but it was footwear only. All they made were cleats,” Hill said.

LaVell Edwards. (BYU Athletics)

Then everything evolved when Nike got more into college football. Nike expanded into apparel because they “wanted the field,” said Hill. So they expanded into uniforms, then sideline apparel business.

“Our contract from Nike grew so it wasn’t just limited product. It grew into so many units and then it grew until it rolled into a monetary value contract,” Hill said. “That’s the contract we have today, and that’s how it is with every other school under contract with Nike.”

BYU and Nike have been partners ever since.

“We are very proud of our long-standing association with BYU Athletics,” said Kit Morris, Nike Senior Director of College Sports Marketing.

Today, BYU has a direct internal contract with Nike, which is the highest contract a team can have with the company.

Most recent contract

An agreement made in March, 2019 looks to extend and strengthen the four-decade partnership with a seven-year contract that lasts through 2026. The BYU Athletics Communication Department states that the new agreement extends to footwear, apparel and equipment through the 2025-26 season.

The new agreement also includes financial gains for both parties. The BYU Athletics Communication Department website states that the new contract “more than doubles the annual value of the previous Nike agreement and includes annual cash compensation for BYU Athletics.”

BYU’s new royalty rate for BYU-Nike products will also increase revenue for the athletic program according to the department’s website. 

All in the details

Hill said he always enjoys seeing all the changes in the jerseys, and he’s seen quite a few.

“Fabrics can change, designs, cuts — it’s all different, so I’ve kept the evolution of not just jerseys and what they look like but also manufacturers. Before Nike we had Champion, Wilson and Russell contracts,” Hill said.

(Courtney Tietjen)

He said he always gets excited about new products for the upcoming years. They have to order things far in advance because, “the Nike process works on futures.”

The process for ordering things for the next football season begins a year in advance.

“At first, it’s all just discussions about product, and then they put together line art, which is their artistic design and their idea. Nike has their look on college football, but every team is a little different. Nike does let you tweak things a bit like colors, bleeding more royal blue into our apparel line,” Hill said.

The group deciding line designs and apparel decisions is small because it’s more difficult for larger groups to make decisions. Hill said he is part of that small group, but that “the ultimate decision is Coach Sitake’s because this is his program.”

Hill said a lot of work goes into product design and distribution, and there are “pallets and pallets” of products to prepare for fall camp. He has a small team that works to make sure all of the orders are placed correctly and distributed correctly so the team is all ready for the season.

“I have a small team because there aren’t too many people that I like to get involved with gear distribution. It’s easy to make a lot of mistakes and so I hired a full-time assistant and then we have students who help out as well,” Hill explained.

BYU being a Nike school

BYU football wide receiver Micah Simon talked about how Nike is a brand worth representing.

“I feel like Nike is the best top-to-bottom with everything that they come out with. I feel like, from a football perspective, their uniforms are the best and their accessories are also the best like their gloves and cleats are the most comfortable. The whole getup is top notch,” Simon said.

Simon explained how wearing Nike makes a difference for the team.

“A lot of us have that feeling that if you look good, you feel good, and then you have the confidence to play good. All of us love Nike, so whenever we put the jerseys on and we look in the mirror, it’s go time,” Simon said.

Hear more of Simon’s interview below:

Austin Lee picks up his gear for Fall Camp 2018. (BYU Athletics)

BYU football defensive back Austin Lee shared similar feelings towards Nike.

“I feel like I’ve always grown up loving Nike. That’s what I wore; that’s what everyone wore,” Lee said. “To me that’s what makes it worthwhile. Sometimes it’s all about how you feel and how comfortable you feel playing. Nike can give that added confidence.”

Hear more of Lee’s interview below:

Mitch Harper, former executive producer and on-site host for Cougar Sports on ESPN960 and current BYU insider for KSL Sports, said he’s seen a rise in Nike apparel.

“From the football side of things, it’s a big point in that program to get the student-athletes as much gear as possible,” Harper said. “From team-issued apparel for practices and games to just plain colored collared shirts and t-shirts when going on dates or hanging with friends, it enhances the experience for those athletes and also makes BYU look and feel like a major program.”

Fall Camp 2018. (Courtney Tietjen)

When asked about his personal favorite BYU football uniform, Harper said he was royal blue all the way. “The greatness of BYU football lies in royal blue.”

Aaron Sorenson, former Nike employee and current BYU media relations manager, said he feels that athletes are attracted to Nike for their innovative products and appealing apparel and footwear.

“A popular saying goes something like, ‘If you look good, you’ll play good,’ and I think there’s a lot of truth behind that statement,” Sorenson said.

Here’s to the future 

Just as Nike is always planning for the future and what is next, so is BYU football. The rise in sports and fashion doesn’t show any signs of stopping anytime soon and neither does Nike’s product innovation or standard of being the best.

“To be a Nike school says something, it really does,” Hill said.

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