March Madness tipped off today, but college basketball’s best men’s and women’s teams won’t be crowned until April. However, the tournament already has a clear winner in the competition for brand visibility.
For the 2018 tourney to determine the top teams in the sport, more athletes will be rocking the Nike than any other athletic label. After the four men’s play-in games (which took place Tuesday and Wednesday), of the final 64 teams, the Swoosh logo can be seen on 44 of them, head-to-toe. (Texas Southern wears Nike sneakers, but is outfitted in Russell Athletic jerseys.)
The next closest brand to Nike in the amount of schools brands sponsor is Under Armour with 10.
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According to Matt Powell, senior industry adviser for sports with The NPD Group Inc, the benefit of having teams in your gear isn’t to sell footwear, it’s a form of marketing.
“The brands are getting advertising exposure with their logo on the uniform, so there’s a dollar value you could put on that,” Powell explained to FN. “It’s about getting your logo on SportsCenter and in photographs. And they clearly have justified it in their minds that they’re getting benefits for this, even though they’re spending millions of dollars.”
And brands have proven that they’re willing to fight for that visibility in order to conquer the massive collegiate brand-based merchandise industry. (Retail sales data resource The Licensing Letter measured the marketplace at $3.51 billion in 2016.) In May 2016, Under Armour signed a 15-year, $280 million deal with UCLA, the largest such sponsorship in college sports history.
As people watch the tournament, and ultimately the championship game, they’ll have their eyes on some of the best performance basketball sneakers Nike has to offer. (Variety reported a 30-percent viewership bump in 2017 over 2016 for the championship game, with 23 million people watching North Carolina defeat Gonzaga.) Throughout the regular season, college basketball’s best athletes wore Nike’s top kicks including the Kobe A.D. and the KD 10.
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