SWAC – NIKE Partnership Shows Low Corporate Appeal of HBCU Sports

Last month, the University of Texas athletic program signed a 15-year, $200 million extension with Nike to serve as its official apparel and equipment. Believe to be the largest deal in college sports history, some business experts estimate that the deal will generate UT $15 million annually in revenue, a fraction of what ESPN estimates to be a $4.6 billion industry shared between universities and athletic manufacturers. 

And then there’s the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which two years ago signed a five-year deal with Nike that will provide no cash for championship event sponsorship, no payouts to member schools desperate for resources to build recruiting and development. 

According to AL.com reporter Casey Toner, the SWAC-NIKE contract calls for its 10 members schools to receive the following every year:

  • Nike gives the conference 750 plain white t-shirts every contract year.
  • Nike gives each SWAC school 600 pairs of shoes every contract year. The shoes are for the following teams: football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, volleyball, softball, baseball, and men and women’s track and field.
  • Beginning in the 2015-2016 year and each contract year, Nike gives the conference 40 footballs, 24 men’s basketballs and 24 women’s basketballs.
  • Nike gives two conference athletes an internship in Nike’s internship program.
  • Nike receives four free tickets to the Bayou Classic, four tickets to the SWAC Championships, and four tickets to all home games of participating schools.
  • Nike can also buy an additional four tickets to the SWAC Championships. “All tickets shall be for adjacent seats, in prime, lower level locations,” the contract states.
  • The conference is required to place a one-page ad for which Nike will have sole discretion over its content and layout for both the Bayou Classic and the SWAC Championships.
  • SWAC shall make Nike products available to the schools to be worn by team members and staff during practices, games, exhibitions, clinics, sports camps, locker room and sideline presentations, or other official school sanctioned activities.

And the most unique part of the deal? SWAC Commissioner Duer Sharp receives a personal, $10,000 annual allowance for Nike Elite equipment. His comment on the swag stipulation?

“That’s my personal business what I do with it,” said Sharp, who made $240,000 in 2013 according to the SWAC tax records.

There’s nothing wrong with Sharp receiving a creative commission on brokering a deal between his conference and the apparel giant. There’s nothing wrong with the conference having in-kind sponsorship for shoes, clothing and equipment worn by athletes and coaches every year. 

But there is something wrong when Sharp, and other member presidents who may have been privy to this deal, signed off without without any consideration for what the schools really could have gotten from Nike or any other apparel maker courting black colleges.

There’s no way that the SWAC, perennially criticized in media and among fans for being the worst Division I conference in the country, allows Nike to co-brand with its product, among the nation’s best mid-major conferences when it comes to attendance and media coverage, without looking out for its most pressing needs. Shoes and clothes don’t mean more than refurbished weight rooms and renovated team rooms, things which aid in landing better recruits, and certainly affordable by Nike market spending standards. 

And even if you can’t press Nike to send new weights and to pay for paint jobs at every school, at least you can encourage member schools to invest in competing by brokering renovation clauses for schools who win conference titles, and/or who finish as runners-up. Whatever you do, you certainly don’t let Nike get away with giving less money to SWAC schools than the NCAA, which regularly smacks HBCUs in the face with APR penalties while paying out millions to support academic improvement at select schools. 

Or you ask Nike to support sending conference officiating crews and coaches to clinics, or athletic directors to development training seminars. You absolutely demand more than sneakers and t-shirts, and basketballs and footballs schools didn’t even start receiving until this year, two years into the agreement. 

Sharp and others involved with this deal probably never imagined that its details would ever be sought and exposed to the public, and if this deal was the best that the conference received from a number of corporations, then the SWAC needs to seriously reconsider its entire Division I business model. 

Given that many fans and coaches are still sore about the Celebration Bowl and being left out of the FCS Playoffs, the SWAC – Nike revelations are another drip in the imaginary bucket of inferiority we are forced to carry around as fans and HBCU supporters. It’s not the first puzzling contract we’ve seen in HBCU sports, and definitely not the last, but its the latest to leave stakeholders wondering about the true worth of our teams and athletes, and how little we demand in leveraging the attention they actually earn.


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21 comments
  1. Here’s another example of us being our own worst enemy. Instead of the author comparing this contract to other fcs level schools. He use an example of a contract with a fbs school.

    A P5 member school no less. Which average no less the 100,000 fans a game and has a multi-billion dollar television contract. To even remotely insinuate that they are in the same ball park. Is as idiotic as saying we live in a post racial society because Barack Obama is President.

    Which friends like hbcu digest. Who the hell needs enemies?

  2. I am waiting on the leadership representing the HBCUs to blame Nike or the WHITE MAN for making them sign this contract. This is a laughing matter and if CNN picks it up it will be a international laughing matter. Where do these people come from running our HBCUs. This is beyond poor judgment, this is the prisoner running the prison.

  3. What many don’t know is that Nike doesn’t typically do hbcu, or small to mid sized schools at all. Nike cherry picks top tier and Power 5 schools, leaving everything else for companies like Russell Athletic, which quietly has the number 1 market share in college athletics, by a mile. You see Nike on the schools you see on tv, but they mostly ignore everybody else, of which there are hundreds. Russell has had the SWAC forever, so it looks like Duer took whatever scraps they would throw him so he could say his league was with Nike finally…

  4. This is a seriously short sighted article. This Nike deal is not new, first of all. We have worn Nike shoes for a number of years. Russell is for apparel.

    This contract basically provides about $60k in shoes to each SWAC school. Some FBS schools get less than 20k in combined apparel snd shoes annually. TOTAL. We cannot compare out deal to the LSUs and Alabamas of the sports world. Those are $100M+ bugdet programs with Billion $ TV deals.

  5. Yep
    This is a seriously short sighted article. This Nike deal is not new, first of all. We have worn Nike shoes for a number of years. Russell is for apparel.
    This contract basically provides about $60k in shoes to each SWAC school. Some FBS schools get less than 20k in combined apparel snd shoes annually. TOTAL. We cannot compare out deal to the LSUs and Alabamas of the sports world. Those are $100M+ bugdet programs with Billion $ TV deals.

    Are these the facts stated by YEP. HBCU contracts cannot compare to Alabama but we get more than the FSB schools, really. The mind-set here is just amazing. Yep and others do not no their worth when they are speaking about Nike. It doesn’t matter what other conference schools get, the contract in question is a beggers contract. The cost to produce the shoes in Dong Lees sweat shop is pennies on the dollar.
    Example: $60,000 worth of shoes cost $500.00 to produce.

    1. Somebody Call Under Armour
      2. Sharp needs to be fired or demoted
      3. I Love Nike but Eff Nike for this BS deal
      4. Include the SWAC BANDS!!!!
      5. Really???
    1. Correct Under Armor is very aggressive in getting market share. I think a more appropriate comparison is to view mid major contracts with Nike/Addidas at schools like Western Kentucky, Troy University, La Tech, etc……..

    1. So basically, you are totally okay with PWI’s receiving money and HBCU’s receiving stuff? Oh wait…I get it. Never mind.

  6. While many say you cannot compare the sponsorship dollars between larger football programs to HBCUs, you can still hustle for larger support. The disparity is due to the conference management, ADs, and HBCU presidents who are satisfied with the crumbs rather than going for a piece of the pie. As I have always stated, HBCU sports programs and conferences need stronger leadership that understand their roles include marketing, sponsorship, and other funding opportunities to build quality infrastructure for college players. Without this, HBCU sports programs will continue to be a joke.

  7. Another example of some black folks finding anything to complain about just like some are whining about the Celebration bowl. Although no other fcs school has a bowl game that will earn their school in the neighborhood of a million dollars.

    These armchair experts actually think we can command ten million for each schools.

    My advice. Step away from the Playstation

    1. Post the details. There are large colleges that don’t receive deals anywhere near this. You must be at Phil Knights high school.

  8. Nike is a $28 billion corporation that is getting ready to execute a stock split. I know because I’m a shareholder. You do in-kind only deals with smaller companies. I know because I was the Director of Marketing and Sponsorship for the City of Chicago. You have to get some cash for each school (at least $50K per year/ per school plus $25k to conference office). Nike needs to purchase ads in each schools’ football game day programs. The internship number is paltry as well as the number of balls provided to the SWAC. Nike could also provide marketing expertise to school’s athletic departments…The proposed cash outlay would be only $575 thousand a year plus ad buys so it’s not breaking the bank. This would be in addition to any product donations…

  9. This is very complicated, but sad nonetheless. I would not do a deal that does not include ANY cash; I just wouldn’t.

    More importantly, they have established the ceiling for what they can get from anyone else now. If you gave Nike that deal, why would I give you more? Even Under Armour will pay something, but it’s not going to be much if Nike’s in the game for no cash.

    Very troubling. As someone else has said, this is about poor leadership.

  10. Sharp needs to go, he has no HBCU ties and he only brokered the deal for himself. His non ties to HBCU sports make him ignorant to the need and the desire for HBCU sports to be recognized and generate revenue.

  11. Re-post:

    VCU receives an apparel deal – with no cash from Nike

    Richmond receives an apparel deal no case

    VA Tech $1m equipment allowance + cash from Nike

    McNeese St – an apparel deal
    No cash with Under Armour

    Not sure how the SWAC could get or do any better

    1. Important point lost in all of this – my example of Texas was to show what one institution, admittedly at the top of the college football food chain, gets in relation to an entire conference that leads FCS in attendance. Its reasonable to compare one school to a conference of ten schools across the entire football-addled southeastern US – and to conclude that the deal was not a strong one for our conference or our member schools.

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