Penn State and Nike: The Relationship

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One of Penn State’s most important and extensive relationships is with athletic apparel giant Nike. The Nike swoosh is ubiquitous on Penn State clothing, and the apparel deal between the company and the university remains one of the most lucrative in the nation.

A reader sent us a tip about an illuminating Lancaster Online investigative series about the Penn State-Nike relationship published last month that fell under the radar. Two reporters — Mike Gross and Gil Smart — wrote six stories exploring the different facets of the complex and often clandestine relationship.

Here are links to the stories (and some excerpts) if you missed this series last month like we did:

Deal between Penn State and Nike isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not a great thing, either

“Why,” asked Bryce Jordan, nearly 13 years ago, “should a university be an advertising medium for your industry?”

The question was directed at Sonny Vaccaro, a legend of the basketball subculture who had brokered arrangements with colleges and college coaches for Nike, Reebok and adidas.

“They shouldn’t, sir,” Vaccaro said. “You sold your souls, and you’re going to continue selling them. You can be very moral and righteous in asking me that question, sir, but there’s not one of you in this room that’s going to turn down any of our money.’’

Big, uncomfortable silence in the room.

Why Penn State’s brand is one of the most valuable in college football

“Football is the main driver; if you have a strong football program you’re likely to get a strong apparel deal,” [Brunious] said. “There’s incremental value when you have (schools) that are successful in both football and basketball, like Michigan or Florida, but basketball programs are usually just the cherry on top — unless you’re talking major college basketball brands like Duke or Kentucky.”

University shoe contracts typically stipulate how much a school is to get in cash, apparel and gear, and stipulates that all university athletes and coaches wear the brand on the field — and sometimes off.

Swoosh State: Penn State’s lucrative contract with Nike remains hidden from the public

In the Big Ten Conference, only Penn State and Northwestern University — a private school — refuse to disclose their shoe deals.

The University of Michigan’s 10-year deal with Adidas, worth $82 million, was thought to be the nation’s biggest – until last month, when the University of Notre Dame inked a 10-year deal with Under Armour that the company characterized as the most lucrative in college sports.

How many Nike swooshes can you squeeze onto a Penn State football player? 6, give or take a few

Six. That’s about the minimum number of Nike swooshes a Penn State football player can get away with on game day.

That’s two of the famous logos on each shoe, one on the pants and one on the once-pristine Nittany Lion jersey.

Junkets, JoePa, and Phil Knight: Why Penn State’s relationship with Nike is more than just a business deal

At night there were talent shows in which Joe, hard as it is to picture, portrayed a swaying palm tree, and performed a duet of “Wild Thing,’’ with a guitar-playing coach, either Colorado’s Rick Neuheisel of Gary Patterson of TCU, that became an annual tradition.

Penn State was one of the first “Nike schools,’’ having signed its initial deal in 1993. At first, according to multiple reports, Paterno’s players didn’t want to wear the Nike swoosh on their jerseys.

“I said we have to get that Nike patch on,’’ Paterno told them. “That’s where we get our shoes from. They like ‘em that way, which is fine with me because I like ‘em.”

State secrets: Why PSU remains exempt from most open-records laws even after the Jerry Sandusky scandal

Penn State is in line to receive $229.7 million in state subsidies this year, according to Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget.

Just don’t expect the money to buy transparency.

Penn State is one of four “state-related” universities that are almost completely exempt from Pennsylvania’s right-to-know law.

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About Author

Kevin Horne was the editor of Onward State from 2012-2014, and currently holds the position of Managing Editor Emeritus. He graduated from Penn State with degrees journalism and political science in 2014 and is currently seeking his J.D. at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. A third generation Penn Stater from Williamsport, Pa., Kevin is a director of the Nittany Valley Society 501(c)(3) and is involved in student government.

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