The Final Four – NIKE Wins Again!

They have done it again! Nike is on top of the College Sports world for another prime postseason feature.

Once again another NCAA “final four” is going to be going to be dominated by the Nike Swoosh. In fact, Nike is dominating the entire College Basketball landscape this weekend as they are represented by all four participants in the Women’s Final Four as well! But this write-up will only focus on the Men’s Final Four because let’s face it… UCONN will win in Indianapolis and we all know it.

North Carolina, Oklahoma and Villanova were all considered to be contenders to make it to Houston this year, given that all three were ranked #1 in the country at some point this season. Syracuse was just lucky to have even gotten into the tournament, but clearly took advantage of their fortune and the upsets all around their Midwest Region.

Nike was definitely dancing for joy as for the first time since their three-year streak from 2009-2011, the Final Four consists of Nike clients. In fact, in what will be the 16th time in the last 19 years, Nike is guaranteed to be the apparel provider of the College Basketball National Champion. The only exemptions are Louisville in ’13, Kansas in ’08 and Michigan State in 2000… And they are now one of Nike’s biggest clients anyway!

This will only be the second time that a team under the Jordan brand has made the Final Four, in North Carolina. Obviously, the fact that Michael Jordan went to UNC is a big reason why his brand is the “provider” of the Tar Heels apparel (in basketball at least) and obviously his likeness will be a permanent feature at the university for years to come.

But if you recall from my last podcast, the previous Jordan Brand team that made the Final Four had a significant redesign in store once they took the floor at the Final Four. However, North Carolina has a bit more brand notoriety and power than Wichita State. They have a brand that is recognizable throughout the country, thanks to the Carolina Blue, the unique argyle design and the history that the school has in this game. I don’t expect a new uniform for the Tar Heels in Houston.

Syracuse is a team that has a brand that is recognizable throughout the College Basketball landscape. A unique color scheme, legendary coach, incredible consistency and a fat Nike contract are just to name a couple things that gives the Orange their clout. This year, they have reached their sixth Final Four under Jim Boeheim, but this year was probably the most surprising not only for being a 10 Seed, but given that they were suspended from postseason play last year due to many NCAA violations.

The other semifinal pits two schools that are trying to receive more notoriety in different ways. Oklahoma has maybe the best player in the country in Buddy Hield, but even this Final Four run alone can’t change the fact that the Sooners are a football school. While it does have the distinction of reaching the “Final Four” of both major men’s sports playoffs, most people will recognize their football accomplishments first. It’s kind of like when Michigan made it in 2013, LSU in 2006 or Texas in 2003… You get the point. Fans say, “Oh yeah! We did do that.” But they don’t remember it too much because they didn’t win the National Championship. In my opinion, for the Sooners basketball brand to elevate their status to a level similar to their football program, they’ll need to win the National Championship.

Villanova is a team and brand that is known for their Basketball program, but mainly because they have not reached nationally known status. In fact, not all of Villanova’s sports programs compete at the Division 1-A level. Their football team for example actually plays in Division 1-AA and even though the team won a Division National Championship in 2009, I don’t know if anyone past the local Philadelphia area even knows about that program! In fact, without a significant football program, you could say that the Wildcats brand as a whole does not have a brand resonance beyond this region. While the basketball team has won a National Title (1985) and made a Final Four in 2009, but this could very well be ‘Nova’s coming out party for this modern era.

If you look on Nike’s website, the Wildcats have the fewest amount of goods available out of the Final Four teams. This would change if the Wildcats were able to pull off a victory not only in the National Semifinal, but in the title game as well! A national championship can led to leverage for a renegotiated contract with Nike that could bring the Wildcats to national coverage and advertising by the brand, and with Kyle Lowry’s success in Toronto, there is a potential new face for Nike to use.

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In short, this Final Four is simply another showcase for Nike and their brand. The question is whether it will be a standard bearer like North Carolina or can a smaller brand like Villanova begin an ascension national recognition.

UPDATE: So, as it seems like the script is following my last sentence above. Tonight, it will be the National Brand Name in North Carolina versus the Regionally prominent Villanova. If the Wildcats can defeat the powerhouse brand that the Tar Heels represent, I believe it will start an entire summer of the school becoming a focus of campaigns by the NCAA and Nike. Space on the Nike website and social media pages, maybe Kyle Lowry being the face of Nike’s new “Always Reppin” college campaign, etc… will be in their future. The question is can they take advantage of this golden opportunity, for their team, their school and their brand!