In 2016, UCLA agreed to a 15-year, $280-million deal with sports apparel company Under Armour. The size of the contract was shocking, but Under Armour does not dish out money to every school that it agrees to provide uniforms for. In January 2016, NCAA Division III school Dickinson College agreed to a five-year contract with the Under Armour. This deal does not pay Dickinson millions of dollars, nor does it provide the college’s athletic teams with free uniforms or gear.
In a 2016 interview, Dickinson Athletic Director Joe Giunta said the deal gives the athletic department a “considerable discount on all Under Armour products.” For small schools like Dickinson where only a small percentage of the overall budget goes to athletics, saving money any way possible while still providing their athletes with top of the line uniforms is a “win-win”, according to Giunta. Division III schools across the country are utilizing deals like this to attach their institution to a brand and to save money that can be used elsewhere in athletics. “From a marketing perspective it was an absolute no-brainer,” Giunta tells CollegeAD, “to get everybody on such a great brand like Under Armour that could be one of the hottest out there.”
Giunta touched on how major companies like Under Armour, adidas and Nike “are out getting Division III schools because it behooves them to have an all-encompassing deal with athletic departments to drive business”. NCAA Division III has 450 member schools according to the NCAA website. By working with schools at this level, these three companies are reaching a larger audience than with Division I and II. Nike has been the king of sports apparel in the United States for several years, however, adidas and Under Armour are jockeying for that top spot alongside Nike. Under Armour recently agreed with Major League Baseball to begin providing uniforms starting in 2020. The National Hockey League will have adidas uniforms starting in 2017 for seven years. There are several factors as to why these companies would want to branch out the way that they have, not simply focusing on the tip of the iceberg athletically. Giunta said that “you want to join companies that are growing and expanding and hot.”
Dickinson and other Division III schools do not work directly with Under Armour or other apparel companies, rather they use a middleman who does the legwork for the athletic department and the apparel company. Dickinson is partnered with Kelly Sports out of Harrisburg, Penn. Coaches from Dickinson contact Kelly Sports and tell them what they want for their team’s uniforms, travel gear, etc., and Kelly Sports works with Under Armour to get Dickinson what they want. Additionally, since Dickinson uses Kelly Sports, they get money back based on how much was spent during the year. “One might think that Division III schools are getting forgotten about, but I can say, with the utmost of confidence, that both Under Armour and Kelly Sports have been tremendous partners,” Giunta said.
In sports, there can only be one champion, which for years has left everyone else figuring out how to advance their brand and attract recruits and advertisers. These non-scholarship Division III schools have decided that, other than academics, they need something else that they can use to sell their institution, and that has quickly become uniforms and gear. “It’s not something we can tangibly say ‘yes we got this recruit’, but I’ve been on tours with recruits…and I’ve seen their positive reactions [to the Under Armour uniforms]”, Giunta said. Under Armour, adidas, and Nike have realized that there is much more to athletics than the sport itself and that it lies within what the athletes are wearing on the field and what they have hanging up in their closet.