SOUTH BEND, Ind. – In the end, Notre Dame went to the highest bidder. On Friday, Under Armour announced it re-signed Notre Dame to a second 10-year contract as the athletic department’s apparel partner, beating out Nike and Adidas.
Yahoo Sports reported that the deal is roughly $10 million annually, spread between cash and gear, making it one of the most lucrative apparel deals in college sports. That would be a departure from the first 10-year contract that outgoing athletics director Jack Swarbrick negotiated with the apparel manufacturer, which included stock in the company. That stock took a precipitous drop during the term of the contract as Under Armour shed college athletics programs, notably UCLA.
Notre Dame, however, was a prize that Under Armour could not let get away, even if it had to pay to keep it. Notre Dame evaluated a future with Nike or Adidas, but neither brand needed the Fighting Irish athletics programs quite like Under Armour.
— Under Armour (@UnderArmour) August 4, 2023
In fact, Under Armour hosted Notre Dame head football coach Marcus Freeman this summer during his alumni clubs tours on the East Coast.
Swarbrick, whose son Cal works at Under Armour in its collegiate sports marketing division, said Notre Dame did ample evaluation of other programs’ experiences with their apparel partners during recent months and came away with the impression a partnership with Nike or Adidas wouldn’t necessarily come with a new set of circumstances. If there was a tell in Swarbrick’s thinking on apparel, this might have been it. Why leave the lucrative devil you know for one that may create as many issues as it solves?
“We spent more time in this go-around talking to other schools,” Swarbrick told The Athletic in late June. “Everybody has issues. You think, we’ve got this issue. Then you find out everybody else is dealing with a version of that or something else.”
Swarbrick also downplayed the idea Notre Dame needed to be a priority partner with its next apparel company, something Under Armour could provide but Nike and Adidas may not. Nike already represents Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State, never mind the entire NFL. It’s difficult to see Notre Dame being ahead of those programs in the company’s outlook. On Monday, Adidas agreed to a 10-year deal with Manchester United at more than $100 million annually. Again, Notre Dame would be in a different ballpark.
Under Armour, though, is much further down the apparel food chain, with Utah, Wisconsin, Auburn and Maryland the biggest collegiate programs in its portfolio. Auburn is the only Under Armour program to win a national championship in football.
“I don’t want to overstate (being a priority partner). That’s not what drives it,” Swarbrick said. “The access you gain when you’re a priority, the responsiveness you get when you’re a priority, those are helpful, but they’re not driving the process here.”
In the end, it appears the finances won the day for Notre Dame and Under Armour, regardless of public sentiment around any extension. In The Athletic’s summer survey of Notre Dame fans, just 8.4 percent of respondents believed the school should wearing Under Armour moving forward. Nike captured reader sentiment by a landslide with 43.2 percent of the vote, followed by Jordan Brand (26.6 percent) and Adidas (10.2 percent).
If there was a potential breakthrough with Under Armour from the outside, it appeared to be the potential of NIL opportunities for Notre Dame athletes through the company. With Notre Dame the flagship brand, it would behoove Under Armour to help its flagship win more games to drive up the value of the partnership.
Under Armour’s own announcement of the deal seemed to reference this, noting the company would be “supporting student-athletes both on AND off the field.”
However, Swarbrick downplayed the notion that NIL would be a major factor in any apparel deal.
“It’s part of the conversation, but it’s not terribly significant,” Swarbrick said. “We’re much more focused on gaining the resources that allow us to do things directly for our students. Not as NIL.”
(Photo: Quinn Harris / Getty Images)