Florida A&M’s LeBron Nike Deal Features Millions in Gear and Star Promotion

·4 min read

The first LeBron James-branded Nike college sports apparel agreement is heavy on promotion and marketing, a novel advantage for the Football Championship Subdivision school that landed it.

Last week, Nike announced the six-year apparel partnership with Florida A&M, which will outfit all the Historically Black University’s athletic programs while adorning the Rattlers’ men’s and women’s basketball players in unique, James-crowned uniforms and shoes.

Through a public records request, Sportico obtained a copy of the deal, which is due to commence in July and commits Nike to provide $3.3 million worth of retail product to the university over the deal’s duration.

As Nike’s “Flagship HBCU,” the sponsorship proposal states, FAMU will continue to receive the largest product allocation of any HBCU university during the term of the contract.

The agreement also has Nike spending $200,000 each year in marketing support for the university, as well as providing $200,000 annually to FAMU’s Rattler Athletic Fund, for the purpose of supporting scholarships for students whose academic pursuits are “aligned with Nike’s business objectives.”

Another notable part of the arrangement is the shoe company’s commitment to enlist a “top-tier Nike asset” each year to promote FAMU—the proposal specifically mentions James, rapper Travis Scott and tennis player Naomi Osaka as examples.

By contrast, Nike’s recent Jordan Brand deal with UCLA assumes the opposite posture, obligating the Pac-12 schools’ coaches to be available for up to two personal promotional appearances on behalf of Nike.

The FAMU proposal states that during each contract year, Nike will select two of the school’s students to participate in annual summer internships with the company and that it will also “promote work-study opportunities” for FAMU undergraduates with Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA, WNBA, as well as professional sports franchises that are partnered with Nike.

These extracurricular considerations are not common among equipment or merchandising contracts for most Division I universities, regardless of their size.

In his statement last week announcing the deal, FAMU athletic director Kortne Gosha said the agreement “allowed us to reimagine, challenge the norms of our industry and be the model for leveling the playing field” for HBCUs.

Per the agreement, FAMU stands to earn cash—for men’s and women’s basketball—or retail product bonuses if its sports team’s win conference championships or NCAA tournament games. However, the proposed agreement includes a less-common apparel-deal incentive for the school’s coaches, who would automatically receive $2,500 in retail product bonuses from Nike if they earn conference coach-of-the-year honors.

The proposed agreement includes an option for an additional two years that would provide another $1.28 million in retail product to FAMU’s athletic department through the summer of 2029.

Florida A&M currently wears Nike as part of a league-wide footwear agreement with the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which is due to expire in June. That deal provided for a total of two MEAC athletes to receive internships at Nike’s Beaverton, Oregon, headquarters each summer. After joining the MEAC in 1979, FAMU announced last summer that it would leave for the Southwest Athletic Conference at the start of the 2021-22 academic year, which allowed it to sell its own apparel rights.

In an interview with Sportico, Gosha said that the outlines of the agreement came together in late December. Gosha previously worked at Jacksonville State and Middle Tennessee State, and during his tenure those universities scored notable apparel deals. He came to FAMU in December 2019 after serving as Miami’s associate AD for facilities and operations.

He said FAMU had “cast a big vision” in terms of its footwear future and believed that, during this period of increased focus on racial disparities, it could leverage its position as a nationally known HBCU with a history of athletic success to reinvent what a college athletic shoe deal could do.

As a personal aside, Gosha says he thinks the agreement vindicated his decision to take the FAMU job.

“There are a lot of people who said I was committing career suicide as a 30-year-old going to an HBCU,” Gosha said. “That has been a fuel to my fire … We had something to provide. This is a chip on our shoulder.”

As evidenced over the last week and a half, the terms of the deal may end up being the least lucrative aspect about it. Last Tuesday, James sported a pair of FAMU-themed Nike LeBron 18 PEs in a game against the Phoenix Suns. During this past weekend’s All-Star festivities, James touted the partnership in an interview clip posted on the NBA Twitter account.

“In the four or five days [since the announcement] it has equated to millions of dollars in exposure that quite frankly we would have never been able to afford,” said Gosha. “There is going to be a direct correlation to student-athletes taking a closer look [at FAMU], to students taking a closer look and to other corporate partners taking a closer look.”

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