DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — The relationship between sports teams and athletic apparel companies burst into the limelight during the mid-1980s when Nike introduced its Air Jordan sneakers.
Since then all professional leagues and most college athletic programs have developed contractual relationships for uniforms and footwear with exclusive suppliers.
The University of Maine, the University of Maine at Machias and the University of Maine at Fort Kent all have apparel contract agreements with Adidas, for example, while Husson University has a similar deal with New Balance.
Now such relationships are extending to the high school level, with industry leaders such as Adidas, New Balance, Nike and Under Armour all competing to become exclusive suppliers for individual schools.
Mark Sylvia, an Adidas team sales manager for New England and New York, said the number of high schools agreeing to apparel contracts has grown steadily during the past few years, with Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft recently becoming the first high school in Maine to sign an exclusive deal with Adidas.
That five-year pact, which takes effect July 1, 2012, requires that when Foxcroft purchases new uniforms for its varsity or subvarsity teams, they must be Adidas brand unless that company doesn’t make uniforms for a given sport, such as swimming.
“It doesn’t mean we have to replace our uniforms now,” said Foxcroft athletic administrator Tim Smith. “We’re on a four-to-five year rotation for buying new uniforms for each team, so when every team comes up and it’s their turn to get uniforms, we must buy Adidas uniforms if they have them.”
In some cases, that represents no change at all, since the uniforms currently being used by several Foxcroft teams already carry the Adidas brand. But by consolidating with one supplier, Smith said the school will be better able to ensure a consistent look among its teams, improve its own branding efforts and provide its athletes high-quality apparel.
“I don’t have to buy anything I’m not already buying,” said Smith. “It’s not like I’m going from K-mart brand to Adidas, we already buy top-of-the-line uniforms because that’s the only way to get them to last for five years.
“And we’re not getting a deal that any other school can’t get. Adidas is just trying to get in with high schools,” he said.
Under the agreement, if Foxcroft spends at least $10,000 per year on Adidas products the school will receive a discount of 35 percent off the retail price of everything it buys from the company, including that first $10,000.
For example, if an Adidas football jersey has a retail cost of $85, Foxcroft would get that jersey for $55.25 so long as its annual purchases for all sports exceeded $10,000.
“This is money we would have spent anyway,” said Smith, who estimated his annual budget for uniforms and game balls at $12,000 to $15,000.
Smith said the school also could purchase other athletic gear from Adidas that isn’t part of the contract such as footballs, basketballs, soccer balls and footwear, but that those purchases still would count toward the $10,000 threshold.
“Our girls basketball team gets team sneakers, and we don’t have to buy Adidas,” said Smith. “No kid here has to go and buy Adidas sneakers but if our team chooses Adidas, our kids will get 35 percent off the cost of their sneakers and that also counts toward our $10,000.”
In addition, if the school exceeds $10,000 in purchases from Adidas, it will receive an additional $2,500 in free apparel or gear from the company.
“One benefit in that for me,” said Smith, “is that I currently don’t spend any budgeted money on coaches’ apparel — if you see a coach wearing a Foxcroft Academy shirt out there, they paid for it. But I can use that $2,500 to suit them up as a reward for coaching because that’s not negatively going to affect our students.”
All of the apparel Foxcroft purchases through the contract will carry the Adidas logo but otherwise will arrive at the school unembellished, with no customized embroidery or screenprinting. The school then will ship the apparel out to a local supplier for additions such as the Foxcroft name and logo.
Under the contract Foxcroft also must display an Adidas banner at its sporting venues.
While Foxcroft is the first high school in Maine to sign such an agreement with Adidas, a few other schools statewide do have deals with other manufacturers, Sylvia said.
Sylvia said he currently has Adidas proposals out to several other schools in Maine as well as agreements already reached with more than 20 schools in Massachusetts. Adidas also recently reached an agreement with the Nashua, N.H., school district, which includes three high schools.
“We want to provide the best apparel and footwear for the high school athletes,” Sylvia said. “And the discounts that come with this help schools get more bang out of their budgets.”
Sylvia said this is the third year Adidas has been involved in developing what it calls “high school team partnerships,” and he estimated that 150-200 schools nationwide have signed contracts with Adidas.
“I don’t know how much of this is being done in other parts of the country,” said Smith, “but it’s a no-brainer to me.”