Are you a major sports brand? Do you want to get your products endorsed by some of the best athletes in the world? Do you want to keep costs way down but still have every blogger and sportswriter in the US talking about your product? Well, look no further than the world of elite college athletics! Cheap and effective advertising, tons of exposure on TV, online, and in print, and it’s all on the backs of amateur athletes! If you’re a major sports brand right now, you’re in heaven.
Everyone talks about Oregon and their super loud Nike football uniforms. Everyone. Under Armour’s deal with Maryland’s Athletic Department has recently been pushing them into the news more and more, and their latest helmet/uniform combo only brought the hype to a whole new level. TCU, Georgia, LSU and Boise State have also all benefited from this arrangement in terms of exposure as well. But not as much Oregon, because they are Nike’s top school, much like Maryland is Under Armour’s.
Nike and UA weren’t able to get in the NFL for years when Reebok had their strangle hold deal with the league. But they found a way to advertise effectively for much less money, by simply making one college team their showcase squad, and I believe this is making it’s way into the lacrosse world now as well.
Last year we saw Denver get the royal treatment from Warrior. They came out with two custom helmets for the Pioneers, and they got a ton of press for it. Sure, Warrior also endorses the MLL, but college is still the top level of lacrosse for many people, so their desire to get into that market as well is obvious. Denver didn’t get quite the same treatment that Oregon has gotten, but when you look at the two sports relative to each other, the perks and special equipment Denver received is pretty commensurate. 2012 looks to be no different.
What will be even more interesting to see is if Warrior switches over to Michigan as their top team, because at first this move makes a lot of sense. But when you look closer, there are definite kinks in the rope. Michigan is an Adidas school. But right now, Adidas doesn’t seem to have a lacrosse line. If Adidas doesn’t have lax gear, Michigan can use another manufacturer. But if Adidas DOES create a lax line again, the UM lax team will be expected to use it, like all the other Wolverine squads. For this reason alone, I find it hard to believe that Warrior will make UM their top dog. It’s just too risky and dependent on another unpredictable brand, in this case Adidas.
The other factor to consider is that Michigan is SUCH a traditional school. They don’t need to go wild. They have something better to offer: history and a classy winged helmet. So I’d rule UM out as a candidate for crazy straight off.
So I am pretty sure UM won’t be the team. Maybe Hofstra will!?!? That’s right, Hofstra is now a Warrior team. By 2013 they’ll be wearing Warrior head to toe. In 2012 they’ll be wearing Warrior shoulder to toe. They’ll keep their Cascade helmet contract for one more year, which will be knocked down from 3 years. And Hofstra is a great opportunity. It’s still the heart of LI D1 lax, has a long history with the sport, and has nice bright colors to experiment with. I can only imagine the lid Warrior will drop for Hofstra when they do make the move. I’m thinking 4 colors: blue, yellow, white and a touch of lime green for the Relentless nod. Hofstra has no overarching University equipment deal, so Warrior could stick with them for years. Great team, great colors and the potential for a longstanding relationship. Also, Hofstra hasn’t been competing like they used to, so maybe they’ll be more willing to get a little crazy. If not Hofstra, perhaps Duke again.
If the brand with three stripes does ever decide to get back into lax, then Michigan AND Notre Dame are ripe for the picking. If Adidas has any sense whatsoever, when they do get back into lacrosse, they will use these two schools like Nike has used Oregon to promote their brand. And they won’t just gear them up in their newest stuff either. They will have to make super custom gear for their top squads, and they will have to compete with the best that Warrior, UA, Nike, Brine, STX and Maverik can offer. It’s a tall order, but also a huge opportunity.
In lacrosse, UA will be gearing out Maryland. LPG has a little sneak peek of their gear. Gait will stick with Virginia, but will continue to underwhelm people with their designs. I’ve seen nothing to say that will change. STX has a couple of squads they can work with, but Nike also has a foot in the door at a lot of those schools, and it’s going to be REALLY interesting to see which go with which brand when the inevitable split does happen. I could see Hopkins going either way, but schools like UNC and Syracuse would probably go with Nike, as they are bigger schools, with larger overall athletic programs.
The point is that custom uniforms, big time endorsements and college athletes being treated like pros is only beginning. More and more teams will start to look for this type of deal to elevate their status. More and more companies will look for these opportunities to shine for cheap. And the lines between pro and amateur will continue to blur.
This trend could continue at such a rate that you could even see smaller companies start to engage in the practice as well. Say you’re a company like Striker Danger or ProAthletics. Maybe you can’t afford a HUGE contract with a school like Syracuse or Duke, but you probably CAN afford to outfit lower rated teams, or teams outside of the Division 1 level. Chris Davis of Striker Danger played at Lynchburg, so that seems like a great place to start. The Hornets have underperformed big time for the last couple of years, so maybe 4 sets of ridiculous uniforms would help them bring in more blue chippers. If it did, other teams would want to draw in recruits with flashy uniforms, and SD would become an even hotter commodity.
Say ProAthletics decided to sponsor UC Santa Barbara. They could gear those guys out big time, provide a bunch of wild uniforms, socks, and maybe some helmet wraps as well. Then BOOM! UCSB is the best dressed team in the MCLA and everyone wants to go there for the sun and swag. ProA becomes even more popular and then gets a tight grasp on the MCLA market. Seems like Obviousville to me!
So what do you guys think? Is it worth it for companies to make a big investment in ONE college lacrosse team? Who will go with which college? What could they do change the game? Do flashy uniforms actually get recruits? So many questions!!! Hook me up with some answers!!!