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Georgia Tech and Russell Athletic: The Contract, When it Ends, and What Comes Next

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The answers to your questions regarding Georgia Tech’s athletic apparel sponsorship are all here.

Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

There’s been a growing sentiment over the last several years among Georgia Tech students, fans, alumni, and student-athletes alike:

When it comes to being the athletic apparel provider for one of the top athletic departments in college sports, Russell Athletic sucks.

If you’re someone who likes cool uniforms in various sports, clothes that have your team’s logo on them, or even just cheering for teams that don’t place unnecessary recruiting restrictions on themselves, you know this. We’ve been over this already. Branding matters to the success of the school’s teams and the growth of the school’s fan base, and the athletic apparel provider is a part of that brand.

Still, while we’ve established and agree that the Russell Athletic partnership is doing Georgia Tech no favors, questions abound about the details of the contract — what it includes, what the GTAA gets from it, and when it ends.

Well, no longer.

We’ve submitted an Open Records Request with the GTAA, in accordance with the FOIA, for a copy of Georgia Tech’s contract with Russell Athletic. It’s embedded below, and can be downloaded/printed by clicking here.

Here’s what you need to know about this contract.

When does it end?

Let’s start here. Georgia Tech’s current contract with Russell Athletic expires at 12:00am ET on the morning of July 1, 2018. That means, as of the moment this article was posted, we’re 439 days and 16 hours away from the end of this deal.

Terms & Conditions

What Georgia Tech gets:

  • Georgia Tech agrees to outfit its teams exclusively in Russell Athletic jerseys, accessories, and supplies, with some exceptions. These exceptions are based on the limitations of Russell’s inventory and manufacturing, including things like shoes, football gloves, and medically necessary gear, and occasionally dictate other providers to be specifically used (Dudley softballs) or outlaw specific providers elsewhere (a slew as they relate to golf equipment).
  • The original contract was for 10 years, beginning in July of 2008. Then-AD Dan Radakovich had the option to cancel the final 5 years of the partnership prior to August 1, 2012. He elected not to do so. He left to be Clemson’s AD less than 3 months later.
  • The first five years of the contract, Russell paid Georgia Tech a total of $3.85 million for sponsorship rights. The final five years, Russell agreed to pay $4.55 million, $950,000 is still due to be paid out after June 30, 2017. The payout in any given year also increases based on various incentives, such as a BCS (now New Year’s Six) bowl win in football, a conference championship in women’s basketball, or the baseball team winning the College World Series.
  • The first four years of the contract, Russell provided $1.1 million in apparel each year to the GTAA for athletes. That amount increased to $1.25 million in the summer of 2012, and by $50,000 every two years afterwards, most recently increasing to apparel worth $1.35 million per year beginning in July of 2016. Throughout the deal, Russell also provides $100,000 of apparel per year for coaches and administrators.
  • Russell also agrees to help market Georgia Tech through means like using logos and imagery in marketing collateral and industry trade shows, linking from their website to ramblinwreck.com, and by using “reasonable best efforts to increase the presence of GTAA licensed apparel at retail”.

What Russell Athletic gets:

  • Georgia Tech agrees to various terms relating to Russell’s marketing efforts, including posting signs in stadiums, making announcements during games, coaches participating in promotions, and so forth. (This, of course, is in addition to the marketing benefits that come with having the teams outfitted in their gear.)
  • Georgia Tech also agrees to provide varying amounts of tickets, field access, suite access, and road trip accommodations to Russell for football games, along with other lesser benefits for men’s basketball, women’s basketball, and baseball games.

Can Georgia Tech get out of this contract before it ends?

Maybe — it’s hard to say. Doing so seems possible, although not like something that would be worth the trouble & legal fees to go through with, and certainly not a battle that’s worth fighting (or likely to be fought) with under 15 months remaining.

Section 8 of the contract enables either side to terminate the agreement in the case that the other side isn’t holding up their end of the bargain, provided that the offending side doesn’t make efforts to correct their fault(s) within 30 days of being notified of their shortcomings. As for whether that would/should/could apply to Russell in this agreement, an argument could be made that they’ve done a poor job at upholding some of the following items in section 5:

(e) Create a link from Russell Athletic’s website to RamblinWreck.cstv.com.

Searching “RamblinWreck” and “Georgia Tech” on Russell Athletic’s website produced roughly 0 results, and there’s not a section on the site that seems like an obvious candidate to serve as a link to Georgia Tech.

(g) Use reasonable best efforts to increase the presence of GTAA licensed apparel at retail.

A quick check of the official campus bookstore’s online apparel offering doesn’t show a shred of Russell-branded items within the first 6 pages of search results (72 items), and a search shows only 2 items claiming Russell Athletic as the manufacturer (as compared to 26 Nike-branded items and 73 Under Armour-branded items). I’ll let you draw your own conclusions with where I’m going with this.

(i) Designate GTAA as Russell’s first “performance institution”. Russell will utilize GTAA athletes and facilities as a performance lab for testing new product concepts and/or innovations.

Maybe these two organizations are awful at marketing each other, or maybe I’m getting my news from the wrong sources, but...I’ve hardly seen anything suggesting that what Russell is providing to Georgia Tech could possibly qualify as “innovative”.

What’s next?

Barring a mutual agreement to end the current deal early, the Yellow Jackets are stuck wearing Russell Athletic’s gear until July 1, 2018. From there, Todd Stansbury has made it pretty clear that his athletic department will be moving on to a new provider, presumably one of the “Big Three” in the industry today: Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour. As for which seems to be the primary candidate, well...that seems complicated.

  • Nike already holds several of the major brands in college sports, which are good to associate with, but also would presumably draw attention away from Georgia Tech’s brand and needs. This is probably the single most iconic of the three brands that would have the easiest time resonating with recruits, but it certainly wouldn’t provide any sort of recruiting advantage given how saturated the market already is with Nike-sponsored teams.
  • Under Armour seems to be the favorite in the clubhouse among fans (including yours truly), and also has a majority of the apparel for sale in the bookstore’s online outlet. Unfortunately, a quick check of their stock price shows that UA finds themselves at a five-year low after taking huge spills in the spring of 2014 and again in 2016, and never really recovering from the latter. In other words, business doesn’t seem to be going particularly great for Kevin Plank’s crew right now, and signing a giant, lucrative apparel contract would seem unusual given those circumstances.
  • Adidas, however, finds their stock at its highest since the turn of the century, and in good position for a big deal (should they choose to be). On the other hand, Adidas seems to be moving away from major college apparel deals, losing major contracts over the last few years with schools like Miami, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin, and only retaining sponsorship deals with a small handful of Power-5 programs (with Louisville, Miami & N.C. State being the only ACC programs using Adidas). All that, not to mention that the ideas that Adidas has in terms of revolutionizing visual identities are...unique.

As for which of these three brands is most likely to end up sponsoring Georgia Tech, it’s hard to say — each has their ups and downs, and that’s before money comes into the picture. Whoever it ends up being, though, you should expect to hear a final answer at some point in 2017 -- recent precedent with Michigan, Wisconsin, and Miami suggest that a new deal will be announced at least 9 months before it goes into effect. With the date for a new deal to begin set for July 1, 2018, that means that we should be hearing something by roughly October 1.