Why a sports marketing expert believes Georgia Tech will go with Nike

AJC photo by Hyosub Shin

AJC photo by Hyosub Shin

Before he arrived at Georgia Tech, athletic director Todd Stansbury was at Oregon State for 10 years, the last as athletic director and nine as executive associate AD. In his first job, he was part of the school’s collaboration with Nike to help rebrand the athletic department, creating a new look that covered uniforms, logo, color scheme and fonts.

It’s that relationship that leads a sports marketing expert to believe that the Swoosh is in Tech’s future as Stansbury negotiates an apparel deal for the athletic department to replace its expiring partnership with Russell Athletic.

“I would be very surprised if Georgia Tech doesn’t go with Nike,” said Jonathan Jensen, an assistant professor of sports administration at the University of North Carolina.

The re-branding at Oregon State was provided free of charge by Nike, a process that reportedly took almost two years and involved input from athletic department administrators, coaches and athletes. The company has done it for North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, among other partners.

“Nike does those things not as a money maker, but to deepen relationships,” Jensen said.

Stansbury was at Oregon State for much of that rebranding process, although he had left to take the head job at Central Florida (another Nike school) by the time of the launch in March 2013. In January 2016, after his return to Corvallis, Ore., Nike took him and two other athletic directors — Virginia Tech’s Whit Babcock and Iowa State’s Jamie Pollard — to China, Vietnam and Hong Kong to tour its factories. The trip, paid for by Nike, also included sightseeing, posh hotels and first-class dining.

“You can see how Georgia Tech, from a branding standpoint, could really benefit from working with Nike in terms of their rebranding, like Oregon and UNC and Oregon State have with Nike, where they might be willing to take a little less cash than they have been receiving throughout, to switch over,” Jensen said.

Jensen is not throwing darts. He previously held executive positions at two sports marketing companies and authored a paper that analyzed the market of apparel sponsorships for athletic departments.

Adidas is believed to be making a strong push for Tech. The company has secured deals in recent years with Miami and Arizona State, schools that are similar to Tech as far as being located in major cities and needing revenue.

“They have been targeting schools that are below the FBS mean in revenue that reside in large markets, where they feel they can make a big splash and generate activity on social media,” Jensen wrote in an email.

Adidas also plans to open a 74,000-square foot production site in Cherokee County later this year. The “Speedfactory” is described as a state-of-the-art facility that will rely on robots and 3D printing and will be the first of its kind in the U.S. A partnership with Tech could help Adidas build a presence in Atlanta.

Under Armour may have motivation to bid for Tech. The school played an integral role in the company’s launch, as founder and CEO Kevin Plank made his first big sale to Tech. Plank tells the story that he traveled to Notre Dame for the 1997 season opener to see the Yellow Jackets in his company’s gear, sleeping in the visiting locker room because he didn’t have a place to stay. Further, vice president Sammy Huntley is a Tech grad and was a teammate of Stansbury’s.

However, Jensen suspects that Tech may not fit Under Armour’s strategic plans. The Baltimore-based brand has presence in the Southeast through Auburn and South Carolina. Also, in an earnings call in October, Plank noted “the escalation in the price” of sponsorships. UCLA’s 2016 deal with Under Armour, $280 million for 15 years, was the largest in college sports history.

“It would not surprise me at all if they would be kind of in the process of taking a step back,” Jensen said.

In his monthly podcast last week, Stansbury said that he has been in conversations with all three companies, trying to determine the best fit. As he has said repeatedly, establishing and elevating the Georgia Tech brand is a main priority for him, and he acknowledged that an apparel partner is a platform for that.

He said that Tech is an attractive potential partner because of, among other things, its international reach and its location in Atlanta.

“From a standpoint of innovation and the corporate community and just the energy coming out of (the city) — whether it’s hip-hop, the film industry — Atlanta has a lot of things going for it, and us being located here in Midtown in the heart of Atlanta, it’s definitely something that is positive,” he said.