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ND Inks Industry’s Richest Deal

Notre Dame officially announced its new apparel contract with Under Armour Tuesday morning, a deal that athletics director Jack Swarbrick called the largest of its kind in the history of college athletics.

Irish athletics director Jack Swarbrick, left, and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank pose during Tuesday’s press conference.

Under Armour will begin outfitting Notre Dame’s athletic teams when the schools 10-year agreement with adidas expires in July. The new deal with Under Armour will also last for 10 years. Swarbrick didn’t reveal the exact price tag, but hinted that it exceeded the $80 million deal Michigan has with adidas that currently holds the title of the industry’s richest.

Swarbrick said he hopes the partnership will be a breath of fresh air on the tradition-laden campus.

“Notre Dame is rich in tradition. What we are not as rich in is an entrepreneurial culture,” he said. “For us to marry our tradition with one of the great entrepreneurial stories in recent time in this country is exciting for me. I think that we will impact our culture in direct ways.”

That doesn’t mean any drastic changes will be made in the look of Notre Dame’s uniforms. Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, who was in South Bend for the announcement, said he wants to provide a “clean, bold and consistent” look for all Irish teams. Notre Dame will start to roll out its new gear on July 1 when the contract officially begins.

“We're not anticipating doing anything unusual, crazy,” Plank said. “We need to honor and respect the history of the university. We believe that less is more.”

Notre Dame displayed mock-ups of a basketball uniform and Plank presented Swarbrick with a football jersey that was similar to Notre Dame’s current look. (See photos here).

There will also be no signage or Under Armour advertising hung in Notre Dame Stadium or other arenas around campus, Swarbrick confirmed.

Swarbrick said changes will be seen more in the innovation Notre Dame hopes Under Armour will supply. He believes that the next leap in athletic performance will be rooted in technology and wants Under Armour to use the university as a “laboratory” for creating new products.

“I think this partnership, of all the places it'll pay dividends, I suspect over the term of this agreement that’s going to be the biggest one,” he said.

Part of the new deal gives Notre Dame the option to accept part of its payment from Under Armour in stock, a unique arrangement in college licensing contracts.

Plank founded the company in 1996 and has watched its annual revenue grow from $110,000 the following year to $1.8 billion in 2012, according to Forbes. He said he slept in the visiting team locker room on his first trip to Notre Dame’s campus in 1997 because there were no available hotel rooms.

Notre Dame is the 13th college to sign with Under Armour. The company recently added Navy to a roster of schools that already includes Auburn, Boston College, Northwestern and Maryland, among others.

The Irish represent a major step forward in brand power for the 18-year-old company. Notre Dame ranked third in merchandise sales among major universities in the 2012-13 school year according to the Collegiate Licensing Company. South Carolina was Under Armour’s previous most popular client, coming at 16th on the CLC’s list. Five of its schools, not including Notre Dame, fall in the top 50.

“This is a pinch-me moment for me, no question,” Plank said. “It puts us on a completely different level, and frankly we are ready for that level.”

Under Armour’s stock was up 2.9 percent to $84.87 at 1 p.m. Tuesday, two hours after the official announcement.

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