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Wisconsin, Under Armour announce apparel deal

Beginning in 2016, the Badgers will sport a new look.

Curt Hogg

Barry Alvarez had heard the whispers.

For months, talk of the Wisconsin Badgers ending their 15-year partnership with Adidas to sign a contract with Under Armour was one of the hottest topics around UW athletics. And, for months, Alvarez attempted to downplay the rumors, keeping his response simple: "We have another year with Adidas."

Friday, UW's athletic director was finally able to give a concrete, different answer to the questions.

His answer involved the man flanking him to the right, Under Armour CEO and founder Kevin Plank. Speaking at a press conference at Camp Randall Stadium, the two announced a 10-year partnership worth $96 million.

"We're thrilled to partner with an energetic, hardworking brand whose story mirrors our own," Alvarez said. "I've followed the Under Armour story for many years. I've been impressed with their creativity, technological advances and their presence of mind in the market."

Even before Alvarez and Plank took the podium, it was quite clear what was to be announced.

Eight mannequins stood at the front of the room, donning uniforms for different sports featuring the Badgers' cardinal red and white with the signature Under Armour logo. Although they were just prototypes of what fans may see Wisconsin eventually wearing, the uniforms quite clearly signaled a new era in Badgers athletics.

"We are eternally grateful for the opportunity," Plank said. "And I just want to say from the bottom of our hearts, we're thrilled, we're impressed, we're humbled and we absolutely are privileged to be here and to be your partners.

"The University of Wisconsin is an institution built on the highest values of academic excellence, and we are are extremely proud to be teaming up with one of the most vibrant, distinctive and successful athletic programs in the country to help elevate the performance of all Badgers with innovative footwear and apparel."

The deal will go into effect on July 1, 2016. Until then, the Badgers will remain under contract with Adidas, whom Alvarez acknowledged for their work with Wisconsin.

"I'd be remiss if I didn't thank Adidas for their 15 years of partnership that they gave us," Alvarez said.

Starting next year, all 23 Wisconsin athletic teams will join the Under Armour team, making the Badgers the company's 32nd all-sport Division I partnership.

The relationship between Alvarez and Plank began in the late 1990s when Under Armour was a mere fraction of the current giant it is. Plank graduated from the University of Maryland in 1996 and developed synthetic apparel that served as an alternative to the widely-used cotton tee shirt.

In 2003, an Under Armour commercial ran and featured a line that would make the company famous: "We must protect this house."

Now, as a company that brought in nearly $4 billion in revenue last year, Alvarez simply couldn't say no to Under Armour.

According to official documents from the UW Board of Regents Friday meeting -- where the deal passed its final phase -- UW will receive an "annual product allotment of Under Armour shoes, apparel and equipment at no cost" to the university.

Wisconsin will also receive $3.3 million in product in its first year of the contract to account for "increased product needs associated with a change in Sponsors." In the second year, Under Armour will supply the university with $2.45 million in product, with that number increasing each year to just over $3 million in the 2025.

In contrast, under the previous Adidas contract signed in 2010, Wisconsin receives $1.3 million each year, increasing to $1.375 million in its current and final year.

"The finances speak for themselves," Alvarez said. "It's well documented what our last contract was. I told you what our current contract is. It's not just the financial reasons we made this decision."

Plank addressed his company's widely regarded reputation for what he called "wild" uniforms.

"I think we’ve built this reputation that we want to make wild uniforms for everybody," Plank said. "I just want to settle everybody to know, is that, we’re going to play the right song for the right situation. There’s an incredible history here at the University of Wisconsin that doesn’t frankly require a lot of flash and a lot of pomp beyond the flash and pomp that has already been established."

The official uniforms have not been made or decided upon yet, Alvarez said. In choosing, the Badgers athletic department and coaches will look at a wide array of options presented by Under Armour.

Don't expect Wisconsin to get too bold with the new apparel designer contract signed.

"We will not be a 'change uniforms every week' outfit."

"We will not be a 'change uniforms every week' outfit," Alvarez said. "That's not us, that's not our brand."

That brand was something Under Armour told the Badgers they were not being consistent in developing, despite having strongly established it dating back to the Alvarez era as head football coach. Representatives from the company made a trip to campus "unbeknownst" to Alvarez to gather information on the university's use of its brand.

"They took us into their room, which was covered from floor to ceiling of pictures they took of our campus," Alvarez said. "They studied what we were all about, they showed us how inconsistent we were with our uniforms and our logos and what their plans were. Everything they do tells a story."

That story now includes another chapter, and it is coming soon to a Wisconsin Badgers game near you.