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Thursday, January 22
Updated: January 23, 6:00 AM ET
Nike's resources valued as an advantage

Associated Press

Nike's sponsorship deal with the U.S. Olympic Committee is about more than just sneakers and money. The organization believes it's a way to boost the United States' medal chances.

Under the deal announced Thursday in New York, Nike will provide podium and competitive apparel and footwear to U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams through the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The agreement, which begins in 2005, also includes a partnership in product design and opportunities for Nike to expand its involvement with Olympic sports.

"Nike has very well-developed sport research labs and athlete performance teams that work directly with athletes to develop apparel that's pushing the bounds of being a competitive aid," USOC chief executive Jim Scherr said. "We look forward to extending that out."

Nike has a sports research lab of about 30 people working in kinesiology, biomechanics and injury prevention. There's also a division that works with elite athletes to customize apparel and footwear to maximize performance.

That group designed Michael Johnson's gold shoes for the Sydney Games and the racing skins that the U.S. long track team wore while winning eight medals at the Salt Lake City Games.

Now Nike will get to work with a wider range of Olympic athletes. It will also collaborate with the USOC's sports research team in Colorado Springs, Colo. and athletes at USOC training centers across the country.

"This deal really works to our strengths because we get to work with athletes, innovate and, we hope and we think, help them perform and win medals for the United States, " said Adam Helfant, Nike's vice president of sports marketing.

The agreement also includes resources for the USOC to negotiate deals between Nike and the national governing bodies of Olympic sports.

Nike already has deals with eight USOC sports, including USA Track & Field, USA Hockey and the U.S. Soccer Federation. It also has individual contracts with numerous athletes like Mia Hamm, Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong.

Helfant said the USOC agreement should allow Nike to add 10-15 more sports.

The deal suggests the USOC is headed in the right direction after several resignations and a congressional investigation last year worried many sponsors.

A proposed restructuring of the organization and stability at the top behind Scherr seem to have quelled sponsors' concerns. In the past year, the USOC has renewed or added deals with six sponsors.

"We're certainly confident that they're headed in the right direction with their leadership team," Helfant said. "We like what we see."

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