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Why Under Armour Is Paying Big Ten Money to Sponsor Yale Sports

Under Armour Inc. has signed a deal to outfit the Yale University athletics department, marking the company's first all-sports partnership with an Ivy League institution.
  • Bloomberg

BALTIMORE, United States — Under Armour announced a new deal with Yale Athletics Monday, and while the terms were not officially disclosed, a person with knowledge said the Baltimore-based apparel company will pay $16.5 million to outfit the Bulldogs for the next 10 years.

That's more per year than Nike Inc. pays to outfit Rutgers or Illinois, according to the Portland Business Journal's contract database, and dwarfs the $460,000 Nike pays Iowa State — all major-conference programs whose basketball and football teams regularly appear on national TV, giving their sponsors' logos valuable visibility across the U.S.

Yale can’t offer that. The Ivy League’s television deals are limited compared with the NCAA’s biggest conferences. No matter how much talent the Bulldogs recruit, they won’t qualify for the College Football Playoff.

So what’s in it for Under Armour? The Yale brand, said Under Armour Vice President of Sports Marketing Ryan Kuehl, who cited the powerful alumni network, its global footprint and its elite student body.

"The number of young people around the world who aspire to attend Yale University is mind-boggling. That aspirational positioning made the deal worth it," Kuehl said.

Of that $16.5 million, $2.5 million will be spent on marketing and brand exposure for Yale, according to the person, who asked to remain anonymous because the terms were not made public. That would allow Under Armour to use the Bulldogs in its advertising, for example. Kuehl and Patrick O’Neill, Yale’s associate athletic director for marketing and licensing, declined to comment on the terms of the deal.

This is the first all-encompassing shoe, apparel and equipment deal for the Bulldogs, who play 35 sports. NCAA Division I membership requires that schools sponsor a minimum of 16 sports and many big programs stay near that number. Yale’s breadth also gives Under Armour a chance to experiment with new products.

"Whether it’s track and field spikes or volleyball equipment, it’s going to allow them a great research and development laboratory to invest, test, and do research on product categories they’re not currently in," said Chris Bevilacqua, a New York-based sports and media consultant.

Under Armour may be particularly interested in Yale’s golfers, who are likely to keep playing long after they graduate. Yale’s golf course was recently rated the best university course in the country by GolfWeek magazine; Under Armour sponsors Masters champion Jordan Spieth and is building its golf business.

The Under Armour contract names approved vendors that Yale can turn to for items Under Armour doesn’t make.

The $16.5 million deal also reflects an arms race between Nike, Adidas and Under Armour, three of collegiate sports’ biggest sponsors. In 2014, Under Armour secured the rights to the University of Notre Dame, which at the time said the contract was the largest in the history of college sports. Last year Nike agreed to pay the University of Michigan $169 million over 11 years, ousting Adidas AG from Ann Arbor, then extended its deal with the University of Texas on a 15-year, $250 million contract.

Yale has won three team and 34 individual NCAA championships since the Ivy League formed in 1957, including a 2013 men’s hockey title. Kuehl said Under Armour’s allegiance with the Bulldogs will, ideally, help bring more titles to New Haven.

"This isn’t some sort of a hit-and-giggle that we think of as just nice to have," he said. "We want to help them win championships."

By Eben Novy-Williams; editors: Janet Paskin, Lisa Wolfson.

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