If you’ve followed Northwestern Athletics since 2012, you’ve become intimately familiar with an interlocking “U” and “A” logo.
Since the Wildcats signed a partnership with outfitter Under Armour in December 2011 — which technically began during the 2012-13 season — that’s the only brand NU has donned in that lengthy span.
At the time, the contract was announced as “multiyear,” with no specifics about its length or financial allocation provided. Nearly 12 years since the agreement was spawned, no further information about the deal has been made public.
In the interim, it appears that Northwestern remains committed to Under Armour as an outfitter for the foreseeable future. However, factoring in the broader college sponsorship, as well as UA brand, the context is certainly eye-raising from an Evanston perspective.
Although expiration dates on Northwestern’s deal with Under Armour are unknown, it seems that the two sides will maintain their relationship in the short term.
In a statement provided to Inside NU, the company said it is “still in active partnership with Northwestern” and “proud to be their official apparel outfit,” but that it is not able to reveal details of college deals.
NU’s recent uniform modifications align with a relationship in good standing, too. For instance, the Wildcats rehauled their football jerseys with UA prior to the 2022 season. Additionally, other programs debuted new looks, including softball’s Chicago-inspired “City Edition” jerseys, and baseball unveiling cream-colored and gothic uniforms.
On top of simply introducing fresher appearances, Northwestern has granted Under Armour the chance to represent successful college programs in a myriad of sports. This year, the Wildcats ranked 30th in the LEARFIELD Directors’ Cup, an indication of the university’s wide-ranging athletic prowess.
Moreover, as Northwestern lacrosse captured its first national title since 2012, the team sported new UA gear as it vaulted to the top of the sport. Similar sentiments applied to other ‘Cat teams that garnered national attention and reached millions of viewers, including field hockey, softball and men’s basketball.
Although Northwestern and Under Armour have sustained their 2011-signed deal, such ties have been obscured by the brand’s challenges in the last three years.
In June 2020, UA announced that it unexpectedly terminated its contracts with both UCLA and Cal, due to not receiving “marketing benefits.” Consequently, the company was ordered to pay UCLA nearly $67.5 million in the wake of a settlement. The Bruins, who lost a 15-year, $280 million deal, pivoted to Nike and Jordan.
The news sent ripples throughout the country, with schools pondering their long-term viability with Under Armour. For instance, Wisconsin, which started a 10-year deal with the brand in July 2016, declared that the partnership was still “strong.”
The Badgers’ UA pact isn’t the only, or most prominent, one nearing its waning moments. According to Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger, Notre Dame’s exclusive negotiation window with Under Armour expired in May. The Irish’s 10-year partnership with Under Armour will end after 2024, leaving a cavalcade of bidders. Likewise, Maryland’s UA partnership with the Baltimore-based company will expire after 2024.
Under Armour lost another high-profile ACC client in recent years, too, with Boston College signing deals with New Balance — and Adidas for football — in 2021. The switches occurred despite the Eagles being under contract with Under Armour until the 2023-24 campaign.
As a larger entity, Under Armour has experienced significant turnover since before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NFL ended its licensing agreement with the brand in February 2021, meaning that pro football players — including superstar Justin Jefferson — could no longer display the logo during games. With the retirement of flagship athlete Tom Brady, too, its emblem likely receives less screen time and mainstream attention.
In terms of executives, UA appointed Stephanie Linnartz as president/CEO in February, with founder Kevin Plank having stepped down from the position to begin 2020. Even yesterday, Chief Operating Officer Colin Browne and Chief Product Officer Lisa Collier announced departures.
Financially, the company’s total revenue increased by over $217 million from Dec. 31 to March 31, according to Yahoo Finance. But, its gross profit decreased by over $212 million in that same span. Regarding stock, Under Armour’s current high share price of $6.74 is well below its peak of $11.12 in late January, and even more so relative to its $24.55 price in July 2019, its peak in the last five years.
Despite obstacles, Under Armour has still leveraged its power by signing top athletes like Steph Curry, Bryce Harper, Kelsey Plum and Jordan Spieth. The brand is also the official provider of 82 Division I colleges, fielding premier names like Auburn, Utah and South Carolina, in addition to the universities discussed earlier — including Northwestern.
NU and Under Armour appear to have a symbiotic relationship, one that’s endured more than 10 years. Of note, no known extension of the two parties’ partnership has been announced, with the initial deal signed by former Athletic Director Jim Phillips presumably lasting at least 12 years.
However, it’s key to use other universities’ deals as benchmarks. Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Maryland all agreed to 10-year intervals with the brand. With UCLA’s 15-year megadeal considered historic, it’s unlikely that Northwestern’s terms with UA will last that long. If it did, though, that would keep NU tied to Under Armour through the 2026-27 season.
As Northwestern Athletics begins its 2023-24 campaign in August, there are no indications that the school’s long-tenured, deep-seated partnership with Under Armour is nearing a finish line. But as clouds of broken agreements, departed partners and financial/organizational uncertainty loom, it’s certainly fair to wonder how much longer Northwestern will call Under Armour its official jersey manufacturer.