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Christon Chronicles: A breakdown of which apparel sponsor would best suit UCLA Athletics

Just four years after signing a 15-year deal with Under Armour, UCLA will once again be on the market for an apparel sponsor. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Jon Christon

July 1, 2020 4:19 p.m.

When Under Armour officially announced its intentions to terminate its contract with UCLA Athletics, many Bruins fans had one thought: What’s next?

What apparel brand will pick up where Under Armour left off?

While UCLA plans to fight the termination of the deal, a breakup seems inevitable. It is expected that student-athletes in the 2020-21 year will still wear Under Armour regardless of whether or not the contract is terminated, but beyond that is unknown.

With former athletic director Dan Guerrero’s retirement at the end of June, today will be new athletic director Martin Jarmond’s first official day on the job. Choosing which apparel company to sign with will be his first major endeavor as a Bruin, and he has the chance to swing for the fences.

Because of UCLA’s standing, it’s likely Jarmond will have his pick of which company UCLA Athletics will sign with, but the options are limited.

Of the 130 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, there are just four apparel brands represented: Adidas, Jordan, Nike and Under Armour.

UCLA’s original 15-year, $280-million deal with Under Armour was the largest deal in NCAA history, but since that price tag was obviously too much for the company, it’s likely that UCLA will see a significant pay cut when choosing its next sponsor.

Money isn’t the only factor to consider when choosing which apparel brand to sign with, evidenced by the failure of the original bloated Under Armour deal. The quality and image of the brand are both factors to be considered, as well as the overall fit with the school.

All four brands are viable options for UCLA, each with unique selling points and resources to offer.

Under Armour
• Number of FBS Schools: 20
• Largest Partnerships: Wisconsin – 10-year, $96-million deal, Notre Dame – 10-year, $90-million deal
• Pac-12 Schools Represented: One – Utah

Note: UCLA and California not included because of Under Armour’s reported intent to terminate their respective deals.

I picked the worst option to go first, but an option is an option.

While the first go-around as partners ended quickly and unceremoniously, there is nothing preventing the two sides from renegotiating the terms of the aforementioned deal that UCLA signed in 2016.

It is a viable option, but there is skepticism for a number of reasons.

The first, and perhaps most obvious reason, is money. The original contract broke the bank, but Under Armour terminating the deal shows that the company isn’t in the best financial shape, meaning a steep discount would be on the horizon.

Second, even if a deal were to be made between the two sides, what would stop Under Armour from backing away from the deal again if something goes wrong? How would UCLA have any assurance that Under Armour wouldn’t terminate the contract again like it did this time?

Last, Under Armour’s image has taken a hit since reneging on the UCLA deal, and it would be a wildly unpopular choice among the Bruin faithful to go back to the company. Former UCLA basketball player and NBA veteran Matt Barnes shared some of these concerns in a tweet, raising questions about both Under Armour’s image and the quality of its products.

Overall, going back to Under Armour would be an unpopular choice and most likely a bad business decision.

• Number of FBS Schools: 39
• Largest Partnerships: Kansas – 14-year $196-million deal, Louisville – 10-year $160-million deal
• Pac-12 Schools Represented: Two – Arizona State, Washington

Been there, done that.

Adidas was UCLA’s official apparel sponsor from 1999-2017, and while UCLA had success on the field during that period – taking home 35 national championships while donning the three stripes– there was nothing that made the company stand out positively.

Adidas tried to think outside the box. It experimented with new designs for football uniforms, adding a unique vertical striping to the shoulder pads of the base uniforms and featuring the LA Midnight and LA Steel alternate jerseys. It even broke tradition by outfitting all-white uniforms for the USC game in 2011.

But for a storied basketball program, Adidas took it a step too far – the Zubaz-style camouflage print basketball jerseys were unacceptable, indefensible and a shame to the historic program.

However, Adidas remains growing in popularity, and UCLA Athletics can sweep the Under Armour fiasco under the rug and run back to their last sponsor, in essence acting like they never left.

UCLA would know exactly what it’s getting from the company and would obtain a sense of stability and security, which is valuable during a hectic time like now.

It would also return to be one of the upper echelon Adidas schools if it chose to go back, but there is something wrong with the sentiment of going back to the company you dumped just four years prior.

• Number of FBS Schools: 69
• Largest Partnerships: Ohio State – 15-year, $252-million deal, Texas – 15-year, $250-million deal
• Pac-12 Schools Represented: Seven – Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, USC, Washington State

With Nike, UCLA would be able to sleep soundly knowing that it is in good hands, as the chances of a deal being terminated midway through would be extremely unlikely.

Nike is arguably the most well-known and well-established brand of the four, and judging by the sheer number of sponsors and the price tags behind the deals, it’s fair to assume that UCLA would receive a pretty penny if it were to choose Nike.

Nike sponsors the most schools for good reason, as the Nike Swoosh is synonymous with success all over the world and is regarded as having some of the most popular and high-quality products on the market. If UCLA were to choose Nike, the uniforms and gear would receive instant upgrades just from having the Swoosh on them.

But since the Nike logo is seemingly everywhere, it comes off as almost boring and stale, and Bruins are anything but.

Bruin athletes are unique and need a brand to capture that uniqueness. UCLA would be just one of many Nike-sponsored schools, and to make matters worse, UCLA would share the same Nike Swoosh on their chests as crosstown rival USC.

Going to the biggest and most well-established brand would clash with wanting to be different, but Nike remains an option and would go hand-in-hand with the next name on the list.

• Number of FBS Schools: Four
• Largest Partnerships: Michigan – 15-year, $169-million deal, Oklahoma – 10-year, up to $70-million deal
• Pac-12 Schools Represented: Zero

Of course, I saved the best for last.

Michael Jordan has said that his dream school growing up was always UCLA, but the Bruins didn’t recruit him hard enough. While they missed out on arguably the greatest basketball player of all time back then, I don’t suggest they do the same this time around.

A deal would be beneficial for both sides. Of the four schools that the Jordan Brand currently sponsors – North Carolina, Oklahoma, Michigan and Florida – a flagship West Coast school is missing. Enter UCLA.

UCLA is perhaps the most iconic NCAA institution on the West Coast and maybe even in the entire country – the school matches the stature of the other big-name schools that Jordan Brand is sponsoring and would represent a market of need for the brand.

These other schools currently signed with Jordan Brand still have a partnership with Nike, meaning that the majority of the sports wear Nike sponsored products, but the bigger sports – such as football and basketball – wear Jordan Brand. It would be the best of both worlds.

If Nike is synonymous with success, then Jordan is synonymous with greatness, something that the basketball program at UCLA is known for.

The four iconic letters across the front of any UCLA uniform already bring the presence of greatness – adding the legendary Jumpman logo to the already historic basketball jersey would be the icing on the cake.

Judging by the deals that the Jordan Brand has with other schools, money would not be a sticking point in these negotiations, which is another plus.

The Jumpman may even help jump-start the major programs on the field too, which football and men’s basketball are in desperate need of. Jordan Brand-sponsored schools are generally among the top teams in the country, and recruits would absolutely be drawn to the brand.

A Jordan Brand sponsorship checks all the boxes – hopefully this time around UCLA can actually bring the GOAT to Westwood.

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Jon Christon | Sports senior staff
Christon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously the Sports editor on the men's basketball and football beats and the assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats. Christon was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and softball beats.
Christon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously the Sports editor on the men's basketball and football beats and the assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats. Christon was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and softball beats.
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