Monday, July 25, 2005

[Kicks] Auburn Football ditch Nike for New Balance



They used to say they are Endorsed by No One, but now maybe it's time to sneak into the coliseum and be the David.

Tigers ditch Nike for New Balance

Friday, July 22, 2005

CHARLES GOLDBERG

News staff writer

AUBURN -- Nike's calling with a request. Could somebody please tell Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown to quit taping up their football shoes? They're covering up the Swoosh, and everybody knows you're not supposed to cover up the Swoosh.

The Swoosh is supposed to be in every photo. It's the logo. It's money. It's corporate America.

But players like "spatting up" their shoes. It's a fashion statement. Plus, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said he would not risk an ankle, foot or leg injury for a logo. So the university and Nike parted ways.

This season, the university and a different shoe company have come together in a new venture.

Auburn will be the only team in the country wearing New Balance football cleats, as the shoe manufacturer gets into the world of big-time college football.

New Balance sold Tuberville on what it says is a new idea to fit each player individually, and that it could provide a new, wider shoe for today's bigger athletes. Tuberville was also intrigued by the idea of being just a little bit different.

"Having Auburn wear them is going to launch the whole program for us," said Kent Richard, an associate product manager for New Balance. "We've given them a lot of attention."

New Balance is providing some 400 shoes, including football shoes, training shoes and lifting shoes, and almost all are individually fitted. New Balance isn't giving the university a traditional shoe contract and Auburn gets no endorsement money, but New Balance provides a virtually endless supply of shoes. Nike provided a limited number of free shoes and nominal endorsement money because Auburn's primary apparel contract is with Russell Athletics.

"Almost every other Division I program gets paid quite a bit to wear their shoes," Richard said. "Coach Tuberville just wanted shoes that fit the best.

"Auburn is going to be our main focus - learning with them and launching with them. We're changing the model. It's really about the shoes."

New Balance is getting in the market with this selling point: The widest fitted shoes in the business. There are the standard sizes, to be sure, but there's also the 18EEEE boat.

Auburn's biggest shoes: 16EEs, worn by three players.

"You just don't go pull one out of the box," Tuberville said.

"These big guys," Richard said, "have never been fitted very well."

New Balance will use Auburn as its prototype team, whether it's fitting a foot or in marketing. But the company is hardly a neophyte in the shoe business. It has made all sorts of athletic shoes for more than 40 years.

"Everybody knows New Balance has had the top of the line running and walking shoe," Tuberville said. Now, it's going to see how it fares against Nike, Reebok and Adidas in football.

Richard said New Balance has made a "huge investment" in making Auburn its first football school.

"A lot of people questioned why we got in this market," Richard said. "It's not that big of a market and it's dominated by the Big Three. But we decided to bring in a different story. We wanted to fit these bigger athletes. We're finding a huge need in the marketplace."

New Balance has already custom fit each Tigers player. Auburn began wearing the shoes in the spring.

And Richard said he would not get upset if the running backs tape over the logos again.

"That's not our style," he said.

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