For Georgia Tech, Adidas partnership bringing more than new gear

Adidas will outfit 39 college football teams in 2018 - 12 in the Power 5 Conferences

Yes, Georgia Tech coaches and athletes are excited to be wearing Adidas gear, a partnership that officially goes into effect Sunday. However, for the athletic department, the excitement isn’t due only to being outfitted in gear more fashionable and cool than Russell Athletic, Tech’s apparel partner for years, and the recruiting gains that’s expected to provide.

It also has to do with the actual relationship that the three-stripe brand has forged with Tech.

“I can’t emphasize enough that Adidas has some of the best folks in the world working with us, so we really value what they bring to the table,” said Simit Shah, Tech’s assistant athletic director for brand and ideation. “This is not us handing them a bunch of our designs and saying, ‘Go do this.’ It’s very much a collaboration.”

» More: How the old and the new influenced the new Tech wordmark

The home run derby at the College World Series will provide an example. After Yellow Jackets first baseman Kyle McCann was recently invited to participate, department officials had the idea that, even though the derby will be in advance of the start of the contract – it takes place Saturday – it would be a good publicity hit to get him in an Adidas uniform. Calls were made, and by the next morning, Adidas had sent a jersey, pants and cleats. Shah called it emblematic of how Adidas officials have interacted with Tech.

“There was no hesitation,” Shah said. “We came to them with an opportunity, something that was kind of outside the norm, and they were all about it.”

Adidas has likewise found the partnership beneficial, finding common ground with Tech in their shared bent toward innovation. Jim Murphy, Adidas’ NCAA sports marketing director, said in an email that he appreciated Tech’s willingness to be different from its peers.

“I think we aspire to go above and beyond in all our partnerships but with Georgia Tech in particular, what we’ve seen is a willingness on both sides to embrace the spirit of collaboration and innovation,” Murphy said in the e-mail. “We’ve worked together closely to answer the question, ‘How can we get the best minds at Georgia Tech and the best minds at the Adidas brand to collaborate together as two brands going out with one message?’”

While the contract goes into effect Sunday, staff from both sides have been meeting, calling and emailing dating to last summer. Uniform design, for instance, is typically done a year in advance, which put Adidas behind in creating the game apparel for Tech’s teams for the 2018-19 academic year.

With football, the expedited process began with meetings for Tech officials to explain what they wanted and didn’t want in a uniform, what they’ve liked and didn’t like about past uniforms and what the uniforms should represent.

It was a significant help that Tech had already completed most of its branding work that was revealed this spring with new word marks and a more uniform set of logos. That branding process is something that an apparel provider will often have to go through with a new client.

“I think we hit the ground running with them instead of them having to do a deep dive and look at what Georgia Tech is and what it means to people,” Shah said. “If it’s a 10-step process, we were able to start at maybe step four or five in the process.”

As last football season began, Adidas first provided roughly three to five uniform concepts for Tech coach Paul Johnson to review.

“They show you different things and if you feel like there’s something you do like, you can mix and match elements,” Shah said.

» Also: A look at unusual financial agreement between Georgia Tech, Adidas

With the feedback, Adidas then came back with an actual sample that Tech staff, like Johnson and equipment manager Tom Conner, could examine.

“You see them outside in the sun, against the grass, on a TV camera, everything similar to game day,” Shah said. “You have to take all that into account.”

The process was done by the end of the season, in time for the uniforms to be manufactured for the team and replicas to be mass produced.

Shah was not at liberty to disclose details about the uniforms – or if there will be an alternate look – but noted that athletic director Todd Stansbury has said often that Tech won’t be something akin to Oregon with Nike or Maryland with Under Armour (the two schools with perhaps the most radical uniform designs).

“What I’d say personally, as a lifelong Georgia Tech fan and someone who bleeds gold and white, and knowing how important and iconic Georgia Tech’s uniforms are, I’ve got a lot of personal excitement and anticipation for our fans to see this and see what their reactions are,” said Shah, a second generation Tech graduate.

Murphy offered a similarly veiled response.

“We’ll have unveils in the near future, so I don’t want to steal any thunder from those,” he said in the e-mail. “However, I will say that Adidas been working very closely with Georgia Tech to make sure that, from an aesthetic standpoint, we’re honoring tradition, history and what makes Georgia Tech so special, but also pushing that DNA and look and feel into the future by making the uniforms more innovative, cutting-edge and ‘cool’ for the athletes that will be wearing them on the field of play.”

Shah, who has often represented Tech in its different dealings with Adidas (uniforms, product roll-out, marketing, etc.), has found his counterparts to be efficient, eager for feedback, proficient and invested. For example, during one visit to campus, Adidas officials sat down with several Tech athletes to hear their thoughts on how Tech should be marketed and what it means to be a Jackets athlete.

Georgia Tech linebacker Brant Mitchell conducts an interview in April in an Adidas t-shirt provided to the team during spring practice. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

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The relationship is different than its past one with Russell simply because the company was getting out of the apparel provider business for major college programs by the end, whereas outfitting power-conference colleges is a major priority for Adidas.

“What I really appreciate about (Adidas) is they bring enthusiasm, energy and creativity unique to college athletics to the process,” he said. “I think that’s been exciting for us. You can reciprocate that when you get it on the other side. They’re excited about it, so you’re excited about it.”

There won’t be much that actually happens on Sunday, the day the contract goes into effect. The changeover will be celebrated on the Tech website and through social media, but there won’t any uniform reveals or launch events. Shipments of Tech Adidas gear begin next week and hit store shelves and online retailers in mid-July, Shah said, as clothing companies roll out new lines of products for back-to-school shopping.

Regarding the number of different pieces of Tech apparel that Adidas will make, Murphy said that he wouldn’t go into numbers, “but I will say that it’s going to be a transformation of what Georgia Tech fans are used to in the past.”

In an effort to get Adidas gear in the hands of fans, Tech officials included a gold Adidas shirt with each football season ticket sold, jump-starting the standardization of the shade of gold worn on game days.

In the meantime, Tech and Adidas are already working on uniforms and apparel for 2019-20. For example, Shah said, Adidas will soon have its design for sideline gear for all of its colleges in place. Tech staff can offer their input on how they want to incorporate elements specific to Tech.

After a year conducted at “sprint mode,” in Shah’s words, Tech and Adidas will try to smoothen out the pace and keep moving forward.

“It’s been a learning process, but it’s been a good, smooth process,” Shah said. “I can’t emphasize enough how professional they are. They’re experts in their field, and we’re lucky to be able to draw on that.”