Nov. 3, 2005
FSU Athletics Director Dave Hart announced a couple of weeks ago an extension of the Seminoles’ longtime partnership with NIKE, Inc. The latest contract calls for a renewal period after six years but both parties fully expect the 10-year contract, that could reach as much as $34 million dollars, to be honored for its full duration. The contract is among the most lucrative in all of college sports.
FSU’s relationship with NIKE provides a measure of security not only for the athletics department, but for the university as a whole. It is a big contract and a partnership with a lot of history of which both party’s are proud.
Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s when college football’s television package began to spread from one network and one game per weekend to a much broader range, the value of a football program to its institution, a football coach to his program, and, accordingly, a football coach to his institution began to rise dramatically. No longer was success simply measured by the number of tickets sold at home games. Success began to mean appearances on different television networks, invitations for lucrative inter-sectional games, and even increased sales of merchandise and memorabilia.
The escalating value of the programs sent college administrators searching for new revenue to pay the proportionally increasing coaching salaries. Revenue from the coaches own TV, radio and personal contracts became the key. In 1981, Joe Paterno was one of the first college coaches that NIKE signed to a deal that put him on its payroll and NIKE shoes on the feet of the Nittany Lions. In doing so, NIKE put the swoosh logo in front of lots of college football fans and the corporation realized very quickly that this exposure was invaluable.
FSU’s Bobby Bowden was signed by NIKE a year later in 1982 and when the “NIKE coaches” have their annual trip each spring, Paterno and Bowden stand alone as the only members still around from that initial class of college coaches.
The old phrase “timing is everything” held true in the FSU/NIKE relationship as well. The shoe company was shopping for college football programs that would get on television often; that would play a brand of football that excited the fans and that had a coach charismatic enough to be considered newsworthy. Fortunately, when the suits at NIKE looked at their draft board, Bowden had just led Florida State to back-to-back Orange Bowls against Oklahoma (also on their board) and had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated a couple of times over the previous two years. If NIKE was looking just three years earlier, perhaps FSU is not quite as attractive, two years later and perhaps not as hot, but in 1982 they were a perfect fit (pun intended) – and have been ever since.
Back in those days, the coaches themselves had contracts with the shoe company, or car dealership, or men’s store or whatever group he was advertising on his shows. So NIKE really signed Bobby Bowden and got his Seminoles along with the deal. In addition to the modest contract monies going to Bowden, the school initially got a deal not much better than everyone could get at a Gayfers sale – for every pair of shoes FSU bought, it got another pair free.
As time went by, the FSU program became even more prominent and the contract got sweeter and sweeter. The money grew for Bowden and began to move to other coaches in the athletics department and the shoes got less expensive as well. NIKE knew they had a good thing and stayed ahead of the curve in making sure the Seminoles were one of their flagship schools.
The size of coaches contracts reached a point in the 1990s where most schools became uncomfortable with most of the salary for one of its most high profile employees coming from outside of the department, so at about the same time nearly every school re-wrote coaches contracts so all the outside income they were earning still came in, but it was paid to the university and then dispersed to the coaches.
Such is the history of the lucrative contract just signed by FSU and NIKE that extends way beyond just the football coach and a discount on shoes. NIKE now outfits all of our athletic teams at FSU providing each of our sports with comparable equipment and uniforms. The revenue generated from the contract is applied to a number of different costs associated with a major Division I athletics department including facility improvements across the board. Several Seminole teams have competed outside the United States on trips often subsidized by the NIKE contract.
The most recent agreement contains the most direct wording in terms of the campus benefiting from the association. NIKE has already delivered to FSU a check for $500,000 with another due in five years, which the university will put towards a building near Mike Long Track that will include a human performance laboratory that will be managed by the College of Medicine.
FSU students, and student-athletes, have benefited from the relationship with NIKE for the past 23 years and the recent announcement ties these two successful entities together with a very secure knot for at least 10 more.