For the 2016 NCAA March Madness tournament, Nike has seen a dip in its brand sponsorships.
Last year, the brand had contracts with 48 of the 68 teams that participated. This year it will provide uniforms to 41 teams and sneakers to 44. Three out of those 44 teams will wear Russell Athletics uniforms, the same number it outfitted last year.
According to Eric Smallwood, managing partner at Apex Marketing Group, a firm that analyzes brand sponsorships, although Nike’s sponsorships have declined, the brand still dominates the college basketball category.
“If you look at historic basketball dominant teams, those are Nike schools. For dominant college football teams, they are Under Armour. Nike still has a good foothold in the basketball power schools.”
But he does think that following Under Armour’s contract with NBA star Stephen Curry, the brand has the potential to compete with Nike at some point.
“You could say Under Armour is where Nike was when they signed Michael Jordan. The competition wasn’t as aggressive back then, but that’s the way I look at it,” Smallwood told WWD.
Nike recently won the University of Michigan contract from Adidas, which has sponsored the school since 2007. Under the terms of this deal, which will begin after the tournament, Nike will pay Michigan between $10.1 million and $10.9 million per season.
Nike made another defensive move last August when it created an event in the Bahamas for top high school basketball talent that conflicted with Under Armour’s annual Elite 24 in New York City, which also showcases high school basketball players. A handful of players opted out of Under Armour’s event to attend Nike’s.
For March Madness, each brand has lined up multiple product drops and marketing campaigns surrounding the tournament, which begins on March 17. Nike will release 16 shoes during the tournament and it recently unveiled a campaign featuring its current NBA signees wearing uniforms from their respective alma mater. Adidas produced new Made in March uniforms and sneakers while Under Armour is selling March Madness-themed T-shirts.