Cornell football debuts new Nike uniforms in 2017, and teams will continue to sport the brand through 2020.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Cornell football debuts new Nike uniforms in 2017, and teams will continue to sport the brand through 2020.

July 13, 2017

Cornell Athletics to Maintain Relationship With Nike in Separate Contract

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Despite President Martha Pollack’s announcement Monday that the University will no longer license official apparel through Nike once the current supply is sold out, Cornell athletics teams will continue to sport the famed swoosh this upcoming season.

After the company refused to adhere to a labor code of conduct vetted by Cornell and peer institutions, the University ended its contract with Nike and Branded Custom Sportswear — Nike’s exclusive licensee for collegiate apparel. But the athletics teams operate on a separate contract, which will remain in place for the next three years.

“Cornell athletes will continue to wear Nike uniforms. … Our relationship with Nike is separate from the University’s apparel licensing agreement,” Athletic Director Andy Noel said in a statement to The Sun. He added that the separate contract runs through 2020 in a partnership that has been a “positive one for our programs and athletes.”

Nike’s relationship with Cornell has two main components: the apparel licensing contract, which was addressed by Pollack, and the sports sponsorship contract, which remains separate.

Per an athletics department spokesperson, five teams fall under the sponsorship with Nike — football, men’s and women’s lacrosse, and men’s and women’s basketball — and all others have the choice to purchase uniforms at wholesale cost. A majority choose to do so under Nike.

Even though the athletic sponsorship will continue, Nike said in a statement that it is “disappointed” that Cornell cut ties with Branded Custom Sportswear despite maintaining “ongoing dialogue.”

“We are deeply committed to protecting workers across our supply chain and have worked tirelessly to raise standards across the industry,” Nike said.

Cornell Organization for Labor Action was one the leading groups behind the campaign to sever licensing ties with the sporting goods behemoth. Ana Jimenez ’18, a COLA organizer, said that the fight by United Students Against Sweatshops — a national student organization advocating for worker’s rights — against Nike is rooted in the brand’s attempt to undermine years of work to strengthen the labor standards of factories producing collegiate apparel.

“This is a national campaign we’ve seen at other schools affiliated with USAS — they’ve been successful in cutting their licensing agreements with Nike and are now moving towards ending their sponsorship deals,” she explained. “Simply with licensing, [schools] pay the brand to produce apparel, [and] with sponsorship, Nike provides the gear to advertise their brand on students as if they were human billboards.”

Jimenez added that the decision for the athletics department to remain with Nike is “an issue of hypocrisy.”

“Even though we are only selling what is left in the store, if you go to a football game or another sports team’s game that is sponsored by Nike, that swoosh sign on their jerseys continues to generate money for the brand in spite of the fact that Nike has yet to restore work at Hansae and refuses to commit to [Workers Rights Consortium] access,” she said in regards to ongoing concerns with a Nike factory in Vietnam.

Five Cornell teams are currently sponsored by Nike, and will remain so until at least 2020.

Adrian Boteanu / Sun Staff Photographer

Five Cornell teams are currently sponsored by Nike, and will remain so until at least 2020.

According to a COLA press release, Cornell is now the fifth example of schools ending a licensing agreement with Nike.

Of the others — Georgetown, Northeastern, the entire University of California system and Rutgers — UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara and Rutgers are schools which have additionally cut off their athletic sponsorship agreement with Nike in addition to licensing.

It was announced earlier this year that Rutgers would be making the switch from Nike to Adidas in a six-year contract worth over $11 million, which officially took place on July 1. However, in a statement to The Sun, the Rutgers athletic department said the transition was unrelated to the alleged labor violations.

“Our contract with Nike expired and Adidas was the best fit for our athletic department moving forward,” said Kevin Lorincz, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Communications at Rutgers.

For the California schools, a Trademark Licensing Code of Conduct impacting all schools in the University of California system went into effect March 17 and targeted the licensing contracts, though it never explicitly mentions Nike nor athletic sponsorships.

“It is the policy of the University of California that goods bearing the names of the University or its campuses … must be produced under fair, safe, and humane working conditions,” the code said.

Nevertheless, UC Berkeley switched its athletic sponsorship from Nike to Under Armour with a 10-year agreement worth $86 million that takes effect this upcoming school year, though the switch appears to be related to money rather than working conditions. UCLA’s athletic program also made a switch, but was sponsored by Adidas when it committed to Under Armour in May 2016 with a 15-year agreement worth $280 millionthe largest in NCAA history. Like Rutgers, the deal took effect this past July 1st.

UC Santa Barbra, however, cited concerns with Nike’s factory conditions as the reasoning for cutting off the athletics sponsorship in addition to licensing — something COLA would like to see happen in Ithaca.

Moving forward at Cornell, Jimenez said that the continued fight against Nike will look to ensure that “all sports agreements are held to the same labor standards.”

“If our values and logos are being used in conjunction with Nike, and in general all the brands we have relationships with, the next step is to provide stronger labor provisions across all our contracts,” she said. “That includes guaranteed access to WRC access, our university designated and world’s only independent monitor [of working conditions].”

  • Bill Dassler

    Has the COLA/USAS analysis shown that Adidas and Underarmor are compliant with a particular worker-rights standard, so that they want to drive business to those corporation from Nike? Or are these companies similar in their third-world worker polices, and the goal is to have Nike improve?

    • Ideological Activism Major

      No

      No

      You honestly expect the protest crowd to think things through? Half of them are ideologically opposed to concept of sports.

  • The Ghost of Frank Deford

    Where do you start with a story like this?

    1. The ethics of having your “amateur” players “sponsored” by a corporation?

    2. The ethics of not only being sponsored but having the company logo displayed on the uniforms where they can be seen by the audience and not just the wearer (and yes, this goes for shoes, helmets, etc.)?

    3. The ethics of having those sponsors be a company with whom the university has decided to no longer conduct business because of labor conditions?

    • Reality Check

      Reality Check:

      1) My Division C public high school football team that nobody cares about and sucks at football had sponsorships from both small local and major international businesses. So did the basketball team. It’s pretty common. I’ve seen little league with similar arrangements. Just because the team is sponsored doesn’t mean the players are getting paid.

      2) Practically all athletic gear and clothing is plastered with logos. Not my sense of style, but an ethical dilemma? Have you ever competitively played a sport before?

      3) The article clearly states that there are separate contracts, so we clearly have decided to continue to conduct business with them. Please don’t volunteer me to pay more in tuition to pay for uniforms that conform to your bizarre, twisted ethics detached from the world of people who are financially responsible, yet don’t have rich parents. Personally, I’d rather just scrap all of the D1 sports teams entirely.

      Look, I think NCAA D1 sports should be treated like the minor league sports teams that they are and should be completely unaffiliated with any universities. I certainly don’t like subsidizing them with my tax dollars and tuition dollars. But if you’re going to criticize them, you need to actually have legitimate arguments. It’s like you live in some sort of fantasy land. I get it, you don’t care about sports, or at least these ones. What if people took that attitude to the things you like?

      • The Ghost of Frank Deford

        Reality Check?:
        1) My Division C public high school football team that nobody cares about and sucks at football had sponsorships from both small local and major international businesses. So did the basketball team. It’s pretty common. I’ve seen little league with similar arrangements. Just because the team is sponsored doesn’t mean the players are getting paid.

        –Of course it’s common. That doesn’t mean it’s right. And yes, little league and local teams often have teams that are named for their sponsors. But in every case they are not spending money in exchange for advertising. So, in a sense they are getting something they would otherwise have to pay for. The distinction you make between amateur and professional sports (the issue of getting paid), is the same one that lets boosters give football players cars to use while they in school.

        2) Practically all athletic gear and clothing is plastered with logos. Not my sense of style, but an ethical dilemma? Have you ever competitively played a sport before?

        -Yes, I’ve played competitive sports before, and even wore logos on my jersey. But it wasn’t for a college or university or even a high school where education should be the highest priority. Was it an ethical dilemma? Sure. I don’t like to think that I can be bought for the price of a logo. Apparently my love of sport says that sometimes I can. To pretend like it doesn’t matter because everyone does it is not the attitude I would suggest is proper at an educational institution. Maybe thinking of another approach is a better solution.

        I realize that sponsorship of some kind is sometimes the only way that leagues get created or sports get played. My local high school has bake sales at every track meet to raise money for the team. Personally, I’d rather just see a sign that thanks the sponsors rather than have their logos draped across uniforms. If that’s a nostalgia for some fantasy past, so be it. It’s good to have goals.

        3) The article clearly states that there are separate contracts, so we clearly have decided to continue to conduct business with them. Please don’t volunteer me to pay more in tuition to pay for uniforms that conform to your bizarre, twisted ethics detached from the world of people who are financially responsible, yet don’t have rich parents. Personally, I’d rather just scrap all of the D1 sports teams entirely.

        Look, I think NCAA D1 sports should be treated like the minor league sports teams that they are and should be completely unaffiliated with any universities. I certainly don’t like subsidizing them with my tax dollars and tuition dollars. But if you’re going to criticize them, you need to actually have legitimate arguments. It’s like you live in some sort of fantasy land. I get it, you don’t care about sports, or at least these ones. What if people took that attitude to the things you like?

        –Both contracts were made prior to the decision to cut ties with Nike. So, if the University decides to change its policy based on the behavior of the other party, you would think that would apply to all contracts.

        That’s my tuition money as well, and yes I’m working to earn it–not my parents. Moreover, I spend probably too much time watching sports. Sorry you feel that my questions are “bizarre, twisted ethics detached from the world of people who are financially responsible.” For me, the conduct of the university and the things that bear its name are an ethical issue. You don’t seem to agree. Personally, I’d rather see Cornell cut the number of administrators in half, and put a share of those monies into uniforms, etc.

        As for the things that interest me, these sports questions aren’t that different than the musicians I listen to deciding to sell their music for commercials or composing/playing songs that are designed by formulas to get them airplay and downloads rather than because they like the music or it is some kind of creative expression. I’m an equal opportunity skeptic.