NFL Sidelines Reebok for Nike, Touting Switch as 'Image Evolution'

Swoosh Is Already Reaping Benefits of Estimated $1.5 Billion

By Published on .

Just as it has branded Kickoff Weekend, Thanksgiving Day games, the playoffs and the NFL draft as big events, the National Football League is hyping next week's switch to Nike as its official uniform provider as "an image evolution."

Seven major apparel partners will start new contracts with the NFL on Sunday, April 1. On Monday, April 2, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will cut the ribbon and ring up the first sale as the league opens an NFL pop-up shop in Manhattan to herald the launch of its new apparel deals.

Finally, on Tuesday, April 3, in Brooklyn, Nike will unveil all 32 team NFL jerseys at an invitation-only event.

"We're not a sports property; we're a media-and-entertainment property," said Leo Kane, the NFL's senior VP-consumer products. "There's so many times that even when it isn't during our season that you have to tune in."

The NFL chose Nike after 10 years with Reebok.

"Reebok was the right choice 10 years ago, and they were a great partner. Nike and New Era opened our eyes that we probably gave too broad of a rights [deal] to Reebok," Mr. Kane said.

In addition to Nike and New Era, Under Armour will continue as the official sponsor of the NFL Scouting Combine; GIII will continue manufacturing fan gear, including outerwear and lifestyle collections for men and women; VF will remain an apparel partner manufacturing fan gear, including T-shirts and fleece; Outerstuff will continue as the NFL's youth-apparel provider; and "47 Brand will produce headwear for fans.

According to several executives with knowledge of the deal that was finalized in October 2010, Nike is paying between $1 billion and $1.5 billion for its five-year agreement to be the league's official uniform and on-field apparel provider, as well as to produce sideline-personnel apparel and fan gear.

Matt Powell, an analyst with SportsOneSource, a Charlotte, N.C.-based online sporting-goods industry newsletter, said Nike could make half of that back in year one.

"Reebok did about $500 million [annually] at wholesale at the height of the deal, and last year did probably half of that , what with retailers winding down and nobody wanting to get stuck with product," Mr. Powell said. "With the new uniforms, and refilling the pipeline, Nike could do as much as $750 million this year."

Nike is already benefiting. The league's No. 1 endorser, Peyton Manning, and the No. 2 jersey-seller last year, Tim Tebow, changed teams last week, meaning fans will have to shell out for fresh gear.

The big reveal has been kept fairly hush-hush. "We're not following what was done in college," said Mr. Kane. Nike made a splash during college-football season last fall with several dramatic uniform makeovers, most notably for the University of Oregon, which Nike founder Phil Knight attended.

"I don't think we're going to see anything revolutionary," said Paul Lukas, an expert on current and historical sports uniforms who writes a column on the subject for "Nike is a vendor supplying a service to a client. The NFL calls the shots." Nike was originally set to make an executive available to comment for this story but later declined, submitting a statement that it is "looking forward to unveiling the new uniforms and other league apparel."

New Era took to social media to launch its new affiliation with the NFL, creating a Facebook page that asked fans to like the page in order to see the new NFL Draft caps that players will wear to the podium after being selected. The page has more than 1 million likes.

Most Popular
In this article: