If any of UCSB’s athletes look different in competition this year, it’s probably not because teams have inserted a new starting lineup.
The UCSB Athletic Dept. signed a contract with athletic apparel giant Adidas in October, threading all 19 Santa Barbara Intercollegiate Athletic programs together by stitching the same logo on its uniforms. The contract streamlines all Gaucho gear, ensuring that all uniforms, practice gear, warm-ups, T-shirts, shoes and cleats will be provided by the same company.
Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing Adam Wald, who is responsible for completing the contract with Adidas, said that UCSB athletics has greatly benefited from the relationship. UCSB Athletic Director Gary Cunningham hired Wald in 2003, asking him to leave Arizona State University, where he had set up the Sun Devil account with Adidas. In addition to completing a deal with Adidas, the department has restructured the uniforms to read the sole inscription “UCSB.” No other variety, from “Gauchos” to “UC Santa Barbara,” will mark the Adidas apparel.
“We noticed a lot of national confusion of who we really were when we went to the NCAA Tournament for women’s basketball last year,” Wald said. “Members of the press were calling us ‘Cal-Santa Barbara.'”
Adidas grants cash and incentives to six major athletic programs nationally – Notre Dame, Tennessee, Arizona State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and UCLA – with the intention to appeal to college football audiences and advertise products cheaply. Nike, Adidas’ main competitor in the college football market, also bid for a contract with the Gauchos, but Wald said a committee within the athletic department finalized the deal with Adidas because of the financial incentives and the relationship that he had established with the company in the past.
“We were one of the first mid-major schools to do this kind of deal with Adidas,” Wald said. “We save a lot of money in purchasing uniforms and apparel from them and now other teams in the Big West like Long Beach State, Idaho and Riverside have gotten involved with Adidas.”
Wald said that UCSB purchases Adidas apparel at nearly half the cost of retail merchandise, allowing a financially-strapped athletic administration to save money, sell quality UCSB gear at sporting events and launch an online UCSB athletic apparel store. Wald said that UCSB athletics makes most of its money through the online store by selling merchandise across the country to alumni, fans, parents and recruits. The UCSB Bookstore and I.V. Bookstore are currently the only locations in the community where UCSB apparel can be purchased.
“Our ultimate goal would be to have a team shop that would be open every day,” Wald said. “We’re not trying to compete but we think it would be great for us.”
Most UCSB programs – exceptions including women’s basketball and men’s and women’s volleyball – have started wearing Adidas gear for their respective seasons this year. The women’s basketball team must fulfill its contractual obligations to Nike and women’s volleyball must do the same with Asics before switching over to Adidas at the end of the year. Men’s volleyball has several years remaining on its contract with Asics.
Every sport is different and one of the benefits to having separate apparel providers in the past was that teams could choose a company that sold athletic gear of the highest quality for each sport. Yet, most UCSB coaches agree that the switch to Adidas is the smartest move for the athletic administration.
“All the schools want to look their best when they’re competing and I think [Adidas] has proven that it has a good line [of apparel],” UCSB women’s volleyball Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “We’ll get good products and more incentives.”
The Gauchos have already found some of those incentives to be enticing. Wald said that when the UCSB men’s soccer team advanced to the national championship against Indiana in December, Adidas shipped new uniforms for the players to wear for the game. The company will send money or apparel to teams for reaching certain milestones throughout the season such as winning the Big West Title or advancing to certain rounds in championship tournaments. The men’s soccer team switched from Kappa to Adidas this season and many of the players have sensed a difference and appreciated some of the benefits.
“I think the sponsorship provides a more professional atmosphere at UCSB,” men’s soccer senior midfielder Matt Bly said. “I think it’s going to do a lot for our recruiting and it just makes you feel good as an athlete to see a company like Adidas is interested in a school like UCSB.”