CRAWFORD | New adidas deal sets Louisville on (PR) course for the future
An adidas apparel deal among the richest in college sports helps Louisville begin to turn the page on some recent negative public relations.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The news conference had all of the optics, smiling athletes ringing the room, the video boards in the brand-new Thornton’s Academic Center for Excellence flashing athletic marks and the adidas logo, cheerleaders lining the entrance to the building, pep band playing songs ahead of time.
Get used to these sights. The University of Louisville athletic department has entered full re-branding mode, and expect no stops to be pulled out.
On Friday, it got an honest opportunity on that front, and wanted to make the most of it. Adidas has decided to make U of L its face of college athletics. The deal announced on Thursday night in an annual kickoff dinner for boosters – a 10-year, $160 million agreement that includes gear, cash and marketing benefits -- is the largest deal adidas has ever made with a single university.
More than that, adidas North American president Mark King called it, “one of our largest ever investments in sports in America.”
It was a key opportunity for U of L athletics, which is looking to move beyond a nearly two-year cycle of negative headlines over a sex-for-recruits scandal in men’s basketball, and other questions about the program, from university subsidies and foundation spending on the department to an embarrassing episode over a football opponent’s game plans being lifted.
Earlier this month, Jurich went front and center with a new U of L slogan, “We, the Future,” and the adidas decision to double down on U of L’s athletic program marks a major commitment to the its future -- from an important national player in the sports apparel business.
Both Thursday night and Friday, U of L showed a nearly five-minute video talking about the program’s past and future. Produced in conjunction with adidas, if focuses heavily on Jurich’s contribution to the department’s growth, and the university’s growth, and without any mention of them, serves as an answer for any with questions about Jurich’s worth over the past two decades.
The first speaker is Jurich, and among his first words are these: “I like to look back and look at who was with you and believed in you when there was a lot of adversity.”
When he spoke to the media on Friday, Jurich talked about where the university was when he first arrived. The school’s first adidas contract sounded more like one you might get at a shoe store than at a major university.
“The first deal we ever had with adidas, John L. Smith was new and he had represented adidas at Utah State,” Jurich said. “When we were able to get him to come to Louisville, and the deal we got with them was earth shattering. We would get two pair of shoes for retail and the third pair of shoes we got 20 percent off. Our first order was 300 pair of shoes; 200 we got at retail price, and the final 100 were at 20 percent off. But with that, we were able to begin our partnership.”
The message there is twofold: 1). Look how far U of L has come. 2). Look where Louisville was before Jurich, and after Jurich.
In the realm of unlikelihood, U of L somehow wrangling its way into the Atlantic Coast Conference likely will remain at the top of Jurich’s list of accomplishments whenever he decides to hang it up. But this deal with adidas, more valuable than the apparel deals at every school in the nation except for UCLA, Ohio State and Texas, might be right up there.
CRAWFORD | Four reasons Louisville became more valuable to adidas
Think about this. More than Notre Dame. More than North Carolina. More than Kentucky. Those schools have much larger media deals. They rank far ahead of Louisville in revenue from licensed merchandise.
But Jurich and his team at U of L, negotiating with a brand that badly needs to hang onto relevant properties in college sports, has dealt Louisville into the top echelon of colleges with a major international corporation through creativity and hard work, and despite some negatives in the past couple of years that could easily have scared away sponsors.
Instead, this one comes back stronger.
It’s about more than the money – but don’t underestimate the money. U of L couldn’t provide details on how the $160 million deal is valued. Some of it will be cash, some will be athletic gear for all sports teams, some will be in the adidas internship program at the school. It comes in various streams. And it does stay within athletics. None of this adidas deal is earmarked for the university outside athletics.
But as a program, U of L athletics figures to lose some university money it has been receiving for the past several years. It will lose a sum of money redirected by trustee John Schnatter to the academic side. It could face heavy financial penalties depending on the outcome of an appeal of the NCAA’s sanctions of men’s basketball. It has promised to return better than $2 million per year to the Louisville Arena Authority to help offset KFC Yum! Center debt payment shortfalls. The money matters.
But the message matters just as much.
That’s why, in the video shown during the news conference, it’s important to hear Junior Bridgeman talking about meeting Jurich when he came to interview for the Louisville job, saying, “I was on the search committee that interviewed him. When he came in the room, I didn’t know who he was. But he had a vision that nobody else had. . . . Guys that I played with that moved away, when they come back, the first thing they say is I just can’t believe that this is the same university.”
The message from Chuck Denny, regional president of PNC Bank, is clear, “We all learn leadership from the university and from Tom. We see what it means to create a culture of success. This is transformative for our city.”
King said of Jurich, “He brings passion, spirit, energy, love of the athletes, love of campus.”
Jurich, in recent years, has been less front and center. In general, after watching him for years, I’ve noticed that the better things are in terms of his program, the less you’re likely to see him. But now, with public perception waning and having taking some hits of his own in recent months, Jurich has returned to the forefront, to fight, in some ways, for the program he spent the past 20 years building.
A former president of U of L, John Shumaker, once told me that eight years was about the limit for any high-level job at a university, because that’s about how much time it takes “to accumulate a bunch of enemies who resent anything you want to do.”
Jurich has been at U of L twice that long, and has accumulated his share of enemies, to be sure.
But Jurich also has written a pretty powerful story at U of L. You can talk about strippers and prostitutes and millions of dollars spent. He also has reshaped the face of the Belknap Campus, navigated the program from the verge of getting kicked out of Conference USA to membership in the ACC, and went from firing Ron Cooper to hugging Lamar Jackson after winning the Heisman Trophy. U of L has multiple College World Series trips, two trips to the NCAA women’s championship game, a men’s basketball national title (if it sticks), an Orange Bowl victory, a Sugar Bowl victory, national champions (and Olympic medalists) in swimming, an appearance in the College Cup.
And as U of L begins to turn the page from its bad-news headlines, expect to hear about all of that. A lot.
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