University of Washington

For UW, the decision to leave Nike for Adidas was "not about uniforms" but "something more"

Petersen says UW will aim to live up to its end of new Adidas deal

Washington Huskies coach Chris Petersen shares his thoughts on the school’s new deal with Adidas that will start in 2019.
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Washington Huskies coach Chris Petersen shares his thoughts on the school’s new deal with Adidas that will start in 2019.

Here it is. A mid-week press conference in April when a college football coach dressed like a billboard for his school sits in front of several cameras while an entire fan base takes in every single word as if it were fall late-season gospel.

The venue for said congregation is the Touchdown Terrace sponsored by Toyota. This is where Washington Huskies coach Chris Petersen meets with reporters. He sits in front of a backdrop with the golden block "W" and the Pac-12 Conference logo. Petersen wears a black Nike hat with a black Nike jacket over a black Nike shirt that matches his black Nike pants to go with his Nike shoes.

And yet he's answering questions about his school's new partnership with Adidas. Welcome to college sports in 2018.

"How much has this changed? I can't even believe I'm sitting here talking to you in spring ball from where I started way back," Petersen said. "I used to wear 49ers gear to practice at UC-Davis and no one said a word. It was awesome. Nobody around. We just coached guys because we liked to coach them. .... But yeah, it's always evolving."

UW announced Tuesday it agreed to a 10-year, roughly $120-million deal with Adidas. The pact became official Thursday once it was approved by UW's Board of Regents Finance and Asset Management Committee. It's now the seventh-richest apparel deal in college sports. The biggest deal belongs to UCLA which has a 15-year, $280-million agreement with Under Armour.

The Adidas-UW marriage won't start until 2019 but there was something of an engagement party when their Twitter accounts issued tweets either with a short video or graphic celebrating the move.

As for Nike, this is a company that has Pacific Northwest roots. Nike and UW were together for 20 years. Tacoma's Jennifer Cohen has been UW's athletics director for nearly two years. She's been at UW for 18 years and Nike is the only brand to ever be with Huskies during her time on Montlake.

Not anymore.

"We have such great momentum right now as a department and we've got all of our key stakeholders all aligned with the fact we want to keep getting better and growing," Cohen said. "So we know that. We have this saying around Husky athletics and its 'hashtag GBED' which stands for 'Getting Better Every Day.' And part of getting better every day is trying to have an open mind about change.

"While we respect so much of that partnership ... you really aren't emotional when you are making these decisions because you're making decisions for the betterment of the department."

Cohen said Adidas' presentation was "compelling" because of how prepared the company was when UW's administration went to company offices in Portland for a meeting.

She said Adidas' representatives made it less about the company and placed the focus more on UW. They talked about a potential partnership could benefit both sides.

Meshing things like creativity and like-minded strategies showed there was the potential for a relationship.

"It was the overall opportunity to partner with them that made them the best choice for us," Cohen said. "Their actual belief in our success and the commitment to back that up financially, with the kind of package they put together for us from a cash and product standpoint, was incredibly compelling.

"But it wasn't the only thing. ... It wasn't just about uniforms. It was so much more."

Adidas' financial commitment includes cash, marketing, product and minimum royalty guarantees. The company will annually pay UW $5.575 million in product and a yearly average of $5.275 million in cash, per the proposal submitted to the UW Board of Regents. Plus, Adidas will commit an average of $1.1 million to support its marketing partnership with the university.

Reaction to the deal has been widespread. Questions have been raised about Adidas as it relates to a FBI investigation into college basketball. Hours after the UW-Adidas announcement, news broke about a former Adidas executive allegedly secured thousands of dollars for the families of top high school players on the condition they went to Kansas and North Carolina State. Kansas and N.C. State are Adidas schools.

Cohen said during a teleconference she and her administration spoke at length with Adidas about the investigation. She said Adidas "addressed the issue head-on" and felt "comfortable" with them going forward.

Sorting out such details are vital considering there's a chance of a public relations fiasco for both parties.

Another viewpoint? This deal could be viewed as the latest step in two rivalries. The one between Oregon and Washington along being powered by the Adidas-Nike feud. Or vice-versa.

"We didn't really come to the decision thinking about it from that framework," Cohen said of the potential Oregon/Nike vs. Washington/Adidas talk. "I get why externally people would or why fans would do so. Really, we just are excited about the fact that we have this incredible partner that's investing so much in us and that's hungry to see us be successful and to see us be successful together.

"I don't think our decision has anything to do with what Nike wasn't. Nike, again, is a great brand. They were a great partner. We just found a partner that, for our future, is matched and aligned with where we want to go. This decision is about Adidas. Not anything else."

Then there's the recruiting angle.

Brandon Huffman, the national college football recruiting editor at 247 Sports, said today's high school football player takes branding seriously. He said the advent of social media and that players are becoming Twitter verified at 17 years old, shows recruits understand the importance of image.

Huffman raised a point. There's four major events every high school football player in America knows about.

That's The Opening. The 7-on-7 National Championships. Plus, the two All-American games.

Nike has The Opening while Under Armour has one of All-American games. The rest? Adidas has its imprint on both.

"That brand, the prominence of it and to take a prominent program like UW," Huffman said. "It's an added bonus that's going to get ingrained in kids at a young age."

Huffman took it a step further. He said when players take official visits to schools like Oregon and Washington, those recruits are going to come home wearing Nike or Adidas clothing.

They go home and wear it in front of their friends. Now their friends want the same thing.

All of a sudden, a school's relationship with an apparel company has expanded far beyond the reach of a recruiting visit.

Mission. Accomplished.

"I have a teenager and another near teenager and they are now starting to identify the brands they want to wear," Huffman said. "If I am Adidas or Nike, I know that's going to be a lifelong decision for kids when it comes to what brand of gear they want to wear."

Cohen did her due diligence by reading about the subject and asking the necessary questions when it came to making the best decision.

But Cohen remarked how she was interested in what her two teenage sons and their friends thought about Adidas given they are the ages of the players UW is trying to recruit.

"There are times when I am looking at things when it relates to recruiting, I have some advantages in that I have two teenage boys in my house with a lot of other teenage friends," she said. "I like to hear what they think other teenagers are thinking about. It's helpful."

Petersen and the Huskies are a topic of interest this spring. They've just recruited a Top 10 class and have the firepower needed to challenge for a Pac-12 Championship plus a College Football Playoff berth.

It's the sort of fervor that makes spring football something of great importance to thousands of college football fans across the nation.

The first question Petersen took about the Adidas switch led to him discussing his respect for Nike. Petersen said appreciated everything they'd done for UW and for him in the past. He continued by saying he has a lot of good friends there and has respect for its co-founder and chairman emeritus Phil Knight.

"But that being said, I think we're real excited about Adidas," Petersen said. "I think they want to help us take this program to the next step and give us everything they can possible do to help us."

Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark
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