CINCINNATI – University of Cincinnati sophomore running back Mike Boone knows his team’s next game is a big one -- if for no other reason than how the Bearcats will be dressed.
UC will be wearing its all-white uniform and helmet combination Saturday when it hosts Temple at 8 p.m. at Nippert Stadium. Both teams won their season-opening games last week and this matchup will give the winner an early upper hand in the American Athletic Conference East division, where UC was picked as the pre-season favorite.
When the Bearcats beat Alabama A&M 52-10 last Saturday, they wore black jerseys with white pants and white helmets. The uniform color combination can and will switch up game-to-game, including the use of red and black helmets and a special-edition uniform for Homecoming on Oct. 24 against Connecticut that incorporates the triangle architecture design of the athletic department’s home, the Richard E. Lindner Athletic Center. The helmets, with the commemorative centennial logo emblazoned in gold, will also be available for purchase at a price of $1,250 each.
Where teams used to be identified by their traditional uniform designs, many of today’s college athletic programs are mixing-and-matching designs and colors with a targeted purpose in mind. Wins off the field in the minds and perceptions of fans and alumni can be as important as victories on the field when it comes to building the program and school’s profile.
UC began a $50 million, 10-year deal with Under Armour on July 1 that will provide the school with specially designed footwear, apparel and equipment for all 19 varsity athletic teams as well as financial support that aids UC in building its brand across multiple outlets – not just in the local community, but regionally and nationally as well.
Under Armour Bearcats gear is available for fans to purchase at UC bookstores and elsewhere, including replica football jerseys for $79.95.
But from UC’s perspective, the Under Armour partnership is much more than just a sponsorship that brings in money.
“I think it would be unfair to brand it as ‘branding,’ ” said UC athletic director Mike Bohn. “It’s a true partnership of penetration into, first and foremost, our student-athletes, which is always number one. Then you start talking about overall presentation. Did you see our sideline on Saturday night? What did we look like? Our dance team, our spirit squad, our band, our team, our docs, our managers. Everybody. It is a galvanizing infusion of passion and energy that matches the hottest college in America.”
UC’s previous deal with Adidas was worth a little more than $1.5 million per year. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s equity in athletics database, UC had an athletics budget of $43.2 million for the 2013-14 school year, the latest figures available.
UC is expecting a third straight record total enrollment of approximately 44,000 this fall.
“It’s not a transaction,” Bohn said. “I think many times it was a transaction and I think this is more of a true partnership. We’re figuring out: how do we each raise our collective effectiveness in the basic fundamentals of how we run our business together? That’s why it’s really inspiring.”
Under Armour surpassed Adidas last year as the No. 2 company in apparel and footwear sales in the United States, behind only Nike. Under Armour has reported 21 consecutive quarters of 20 percent growth or more. It has developed a reputation of innovation and quality in its products throughout the industry. That’s why Bohn and others within the UC athletic department see the two as perfect fits.
UC announced last month a five-year partnership with the YMCA to set up a Junior Bearcats program for all participants in the organization’s youth soccer and basketball programs. The agreement provides T-shirts, equipment and coaching assistance for the YMCA through UC and its partnership with Under Armour.
“The commitment they made to us, uniforms and financially, was a big boost,” said football head coach Tommy Tuberville, who previously worked with Under Armour when he coached at Auburn and Texas Tech. “Having an opportunity to be with a company that all of these kids (know). It’s a new man on campus, so to speak. It used to be Nike but now it’s Under Armour. All of these kids are growing up with Under Armour.”
Those connections are a factor in recruiting, said Tuberville, just as is having a winning program. Tuberville said he’s a fan of the all-black uniform look, but he allows the players plenty of input into what they’ll be wearing.
For Boone, who led the team with 650 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the ground as a freshman, what the Bearcats wear means something.
“We want to look like the best team on the field when we go out there. Like Deion Sanders said: you look good, you play good,” said Boone. “Personally, I like the all-white. I think all of the players like the all-white. That’s just always been the best uniforms, to me. You just look so neat, so together, out there. There’s always been something about the all-white.
“You know when it’s the all-white it’s going to be a big game.”