Tennessee enters new era with beginning of Nike contract
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee is opening its doors to the Nike swoosh while bidding farewell to the Lady Vols nickname and logo in all but one sport.
Nike took over as Tennessee's main apparel provider Wednesday as part of an eight-year contract worth about $35 million in money and gear. Tennessee had been an Adidas school since 1997.
Rather than holding a press conference to mark the changeover, Tennessee ran an hour-long video on its website in which student-athletes walked down a runway modeling the new Nike uniforms as music played. After each introduction, a Nike official explained the uniform design.
''When Nike speaks, everybody listens,'' Tennessee football coach Butch Jones said on the video. ''We're proud to be great partners with them moving forward.''
The new gear includes ''Smokey gray'' alternate uniforms for several teams. The football team's alternate uniform also features a gray helmet with a silhouette of the Smoky Mountains.
Athletic director Dave Hart said on the video that seeing the reaction of the student-athletes wearing the new Nike uniforms ''gives me goosebumps.''
Those new uniforms will only include a Lady Vols logo in one sport.
Tennessee announced in November that all its teams other than the women's basketball squad would be called the Volunteers and would adopt the ''Power T'' logo used by the men's teams starting in 2015-16. School officials said they made an exception for the women's basketball team out of respect for that program's championship legacy and tradition established by former coach Pat Summitt.
The move took effect Wednesday to coincide with the start of the Nike deal.
Nike had conducted a brand audit of Tennessee that suggested maintaining the Lady Vols nickname and logo would be inconsistent with the university's ''One Tennessee'' theme, but school officials say the university made this decision on its own. The only remaining major-conference school to give all its women's teams a nickname different from its men's squads is Oklahoma State, which calls its men's teams the Cowboys and its women's teams the Cowgirls.
While hundreds of fans were lining up outside a Vol Shop at Neyland Stadium waiting to buy Nike gear Wednesday as soon as the store opened, Susan Whitlow and Sylvia Billingsley wore ''Save Lady Vols'' T-shirts and collected signatures for a petition to preserve the Lady Vol nickname and logo for all Tennessee women's teams.
''We have to fight for what we think is right,'' Billingsley said. ''Ninety-nine percent of the people we ask about it, they say, `Why is it going away? We don't understand. We like it.' By continuing on, hopefully they'll change their mind once they've had a chance to really think about it.''
The first person to get in line outside the Neyland Stadium Vol Shop was Rod Fair of Knoxville, who said he arrived Tuesday at 10 p.m. As the first person in line, he received a gift card for a free pair of shoes.
''It was kind of like a spur-of-the-moment thing,'' Fair said. ''I knew I had to get here. I just love my Vols and I love Nike, so I wanted to make sure I showed up.''
Tennessee's Nike contract actually is worth less financially than its previous deal with Adidas.
Under teams of the Nike contract, Tennessee will receive an average of $950,000 per year in cash and a retail value of nearly $3.2 million per year in product. Tennessee also got a $2 million signing bonus.
Tennessee received $1.95 million per year in cash and a wholesale value of $1.8 million per year in product in its most recent contract with Adidas. Tennessee associate athletic director Chris Fuller said the wholesale value of $1.8 million would equate to about $3.6 million in retail value.
The Nike contract does give Tennessee a higher percentage of royalties than its Adidas deal. Tennessee officials believe its student-athletes preferred Nike and that the company's marketing muscle and popular appeal could aid recruiting and provide an energy boost.
''These deals are a lot more nuanced than just looking at the baseline financial number,'' Fuller said. ''I think this transition now will be a catalyst for our competitive renaissance. I really do. I think we're right on the verge.''