When North Carolina men's basketball Coach Dean Smith's Tar Heels take to the hardwood floor this season, even the most casual observer of college athletics will notice the striking uniformity of the sneakers worn by the defending national champs.
Only the closer follower of collegiate sports, however, will equate that uniformity with the multi-million dollar sports-endorsement industry. Through an endorsement agreement between Smith and Nike Incorporated, all of the Tar Heels sport Nike basketball shoes.
In return for the tremendous exposure that the Tar Heels give to Nike and their products, the Beaverton, Oregon based sports supplier donates all of the school's sports equipment at no charge. Nike has similar arrangements with the University of Southern California and the University of Miami.
"We pick schools to work with based on profile and competitive success," Nike spokesperson Erin Kendrigan says. "We want to get our products on the best athletes."
While this may be Nike's position on large endorsement contracts, the endorsement of college teams is not confined to only big-name athletic programs.
In fact, several Harvard sports squads, which compete in relative obscurity compared with UNC, USC and Miami, have taken advantage of sponsorship deals with various sports equipment and sports apparel suppliers.
"Harvard doesn't need to get anything free so we don't actively pursue [sponsorship] deals," Harvard equipment manager Chet Stone says. "But if [sport suppliers] want to help out the coaches that's fine."
Indeed, the sports endorsement deals that Harvard sports teams usually involve personal agreements between corporate representatives and a Crimson coach.
Mike Chasson, Head Coach of the men's swimming team, for example, has connections with Speedo representatives, many of whom are ex-swimmers that Chasson has known since his college days.
Because of this relationship, the swimwear manufacturer donates swimming caps and goggles to the team.
Chasson points out though, that Harvard doesn't allow any endorsement of products beyond using them. In other words, you won't see any Speedo banners hanging from the rafters at Blodgett pool, and you certainty won't see captain David Osterhus speaking on the behalf of Speedo after a swimmeet.
The regulations that prohibit the advertisement of athletic products in Harvard arenas hamper the ability of Harvard to receive large endorsements.
"We don't have anything to sell [in exchange for the free products]," Chasson says. "The only way you're going to get them [endorsements] is through personal friends."
The Harvard men's basketball team also benefits from such a personal relationship between its Head Coach Frank Sullivan and a Converse representative, Steve Rosenberry.
"I've known Coach Sullivan through friendship for a long time," Rosenberry, Converse's Regional Promotions Director, says.