The University of Utah athletic department has been partnered with Under Armour in some capacity since 2008, when the Utes were still members of the Mountain West and UA was fledgling within the Nike-dominated American sneaker market.
That partnership came to light again last week after Cal, which was previously in the middle of a 10-year, $86 million agreement with UA, announced on Wednesday that it agreed to a three-year apparel deal with Nike. Terms of Cal’s Nike agreement are unknown, but one can assume the monetary value is far less than it was getting from UA.
With UA and the Golden Bears terminating that deal, plus UA and UCLA previously parting ways in the middle of a monstrous 15-year, $280 million agreement, Utah is now the lone Pac-12 athletic department sponsored by Under Armour. Of the 17 FBS schools sponsored by UA, only eight of which are Power Five, Utah is the furthest west within the contiguous United States.
The way Utah athletic director Mark Harlan sees it, the Utes being alone on this side of the country under the umbrella is not a bad thing, but rather very positive.
“Various reasons have now allowed us to be sort of the signature carrier of partnership in the West with them moving on from Cal and UCLA,” Harlan told The Salt Lake Tribune last month. “We’re very, very appreciative of them. There’s a lot of things they do for us. They’re important to us, (Under Armour founder) Kevin (Plank) has been terrific, his team has been terrific, and we’re honored to be with them.”
Kyle Whittingham’s football program has worn UA since 2008. The rest of the school’s athletic teams came aboard in 2011 and in October 2016, Utah and UA agreed to a 10-year, $65 million extension. The extension began July 1, 2017, and runs through June 30, 2027.
Those previous deals and extensions predate Harlan’s tenure as Utah AD, but he is in charge of it now. He indicated there is no desire from either side to seek an early exit, nor is there a desire to redo the original framework, which has stood up over almost six years as a clear win for both sides.
According to the contract, Utah is to receive $1.01 million annually in rights fees, totaling $10.1 million over the life of the deal. Additionally, the agreement calls for Utah to receive an average of $4.93 million annually in product allowance for teams, coaches and staff. With an annual average of $4.93 million for product, the allowance began at $4 million in fiscal 2018 and will peak at $5.84 million in fiscal 2027, which is when the deal is scheduled to expire.
Utah’s $1.01 million in annual rights and $4.93 million annual average in product dwarfs its previous deal, which gave it just $600,000 in rights fees and just $1.8 million in apparel during fiscal 2017.
“It’s a great deal for the University of Utah,” Harlan said. “They’ve really been with us through the rise of this program. I would say that their investment in us early, well prior to my arrival, was really, really important in a lot of different ways.”
When Utah announced the 10-year Under Armour extension in 2016, the trajectory of its athletic department, then under the direction of athletic director Chris Hill, was up. The men’s basketball team was coming off back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, including the Sweet 16 in 2015. Football won 10 games for the first time as a Pac-12 member in 2015, while baseball and softball both advanced to the NCAA Tournament five months before the deal was announced.
Now, in 2023, the interest in Utah football specifically has reached quite another level than what it was in 2015. The Utes have won the Pac-12 two years in a row, advancing to the Rose Bowl both times, and are likely to begin next season ranked in the top 15.
Between that, plus what other Power Five athletic departments are getting from UA — Auburn’s nine-year deal is worth roughly $78 million, while Wisconsin’s 10-year deal is valued at approximately $96 million — has Utah outgrown its apparel deal?
“I don’t think we’ve outgrown the deal,” Harlan said. “We’re constantly innovating with them. They’ve been involved in our NIL programming, which we’re very grateful for, did a commercial with our baseball team, soccer team. They’re a multibillion dollar company, and you don’t really outgrow a multibillion dollar company.
“I know there’s segments of the fan base that want more. I’ve worked at other schools that have different apparel contracts, and it’s the same complaints I’ve heard there. That’s the nature of the business, but the partnership we have as a department is incredibly strong.”
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