The Portland Business Journal released their list of the Top 20 NCAA apparel deals for the 2016–17 athletic year. (It’s important to note that this is a list of public schools, because private universities like Notre Dame don’t have to disclose their contracts.) The Bearcats worked their way into the Top 15 in the nation, checking in at #12 thanks to their new Under Armour contract that went into effect July 2015.
The new contract calls for the Bearcats to make $4.7 million annually, which beats out larger programs like Maryland ($4.55M), LSU ($4.3M), Florida State ($4.21M), Nebraska ($4.19M), and Georgia ($3.81M). The Bearcats are also the highest-ranked Group of Five program, edging out UConn, who is on a $4.48 million deal with Nike.
There are a few reasons the Bearcats are ranked so highly. The biggest, in my opinion, is recency. The NCAA apparel business is constantly growing, so schools signing new contracts will automatically rise to the top. Most schools on this list recently signed new contracts.
Second is timing. The Bearcats’ Adidas contract expired right as Adidas was starting to get out of the college athletics market and right as Under Armour was starting to double down on their collegiate presence. Under Armour’s new deal with UCLA for $280 million over 15 years is the biggest in NCAA history, edging out Ohio State and Texas deals by nearly $30 million total.
The third reason is the conference affiliation. If the Bearcats had jumped into the ACC in 2014 with Louisville, could they have weaseled more than $4.7 million out of an apparel company? Almost definitely. I see Under Armour’s (generous) deal as a case of buying low. If and when Cincinnati gets into a power conference, that $4.7 million will look better for Under Armour. It’s just smart business. They took a bit of gamble on UC, banking that they’ll be more valuable soon.
The final reason is the simple strength of the Bearcats brand. Nobody is going to shell out money for a weak team to wear their gear on the field. You’ll notice that all the schools on the list boast consistently successful teams in either football or men’s basketball. The Bearcats have both, which makes them all the more appetizing to companies like Under Armour who strive to align themselves with the best of the best.
So although 2015–16 Bearcats athletics was stricken with a curse that is certainly Under Armour’s fault, at least we can rest a bit easier knowing there are only 11 universities in the country seen as more valuable in the eyes of the apparel companies.
Bearcats Adidas contract, expired 2015: $2.625 million
Bearcats Nike contract, expired 2007: $90,000 (Seriously.)
Apparel contracts among expansion candidates: Cincinnati ($4.7M), UConn ($4.48M), USF ($3.06M), Houston ($1.3M). Data not available for BYU, UCF, Colorado State, SMU, or Tulane.
Read the full list at the Portland Business Journal and laugh about how they chose a pre-renovation photo of Nippert taken before kickoff. Read here to search the full 2016 public university database.