SBJ/May 27-June 2, 2013/Colleges

Apparel partners dress up athletic complexes

A walk through the University of Southern California’s John McKay Center reveals more than the Trojans’ rich athletic history. It also tells the visitor a lot about USC’s association with Nike.

The same holds at Maryland, where photos of former Terrapin basketball greats share wall space in the Comcast Center with Under Armour jerseys and shoes in an area that looks more like a department store than an athletic department.

The school and its apparel partner have always been intertwined, but now, with uniforms representing a school’s brand like never before (thanks, Oregon and Nike), schools are designing the interior of their facilities to reflect a greater emphasis on the apparel partner, and the gear it provides to student athletes.

Design firm Advent created an 80-foot-long Nike interactive digital space in the McKay Center.
Photo by: CLAUDIO SANTINI
It’s a critical component of the recruiting process. When recruits came to visit Southern Cal, the school used to put folded jerseys and other Nike gear on a banquet table for them to see. Now the Trojans — one of a handful of Nike flagship schools along with Oregon, Florida, Texas and North Carolina — have an 80-foot-long Nike interactive digital space in the McKay Center with uniforms displayed on mannequins.

A recruit touches the video screen and inputs gender and sport. Models come to life on the screen wearing game-day gear, workout gear, travel apparel, shoes and anything else an athlete receives in that sport at USC. It’s become one of the most important aspects of a recruit’s visit, said Mark Jackson, senior associate athletic director at Southern Cal.

“The whole display is like the front face of Niketown,” Jackson said. “We know that this kind of thing is driving the decisions of 17- and 18-year-olds now.”

The company behind many of these interior projects is Advent, a small, private Nashville-based design firm with three dozen employees. Advent was long known for creating catchy graphics for exhibitors at trade shows until it moved into the college space a few years ago.

It was during a graphics project for a Texas A&M facility that John Roberson, the company’s president, started to realize there might be a real niche for interior design in the athletic facility space. That niche has become a core of Advent’s work with more than 400 projects in the college space across more than 200 campuses. The firm has roughly a dozen design projects going at any given time.

Among its most recent projects are an overhaul of the branding on Mississippi State’s athletic facilities, a redesign of Notre Dame’s football meeting rooms and a new look for BYU’s football lobby and hallways.

While Roberson wouldn’t reveal the company’s financials, he said annual growth has averaged about 35 percent, with college athletics a prime source for that growth. Advent’s competition in the design space can come from any direction — a local sign shop, a graphic designer, an architectural firm.

“These kids are highly stimulated these days,” Roberson said. “They’re also extraordinarily sophisticated. They’ve grown up in the age of Apple and Android and the best design and graphics and packaging. They understand the theatrics used to showcase a brand.”

A typical design project costs 4 percent to 5 percent of the total construction cost of a facility. USC has contracted with Advent to handle interior design for about $50 million worth of total construction projects, making the spend with Advent about $200,000 to $250,000.

Advent also handled the work at Maryland’s Comcast Center.
Photo by: LEE LOVE
Most of Advent’s projects are like the one at Maryland earlier this year, where Advent was brought in to give the interior walls of the Comcast Center a makeover. Some hallways of the Comcast Center, which opened in 2001, were literally blank and beige, with none of the stimulant required to hold the attention of a teenager, or to inspire an alum who might be a potential donor. The Under Armour display was part of the redesign inside Comcast.

Advent used lighting, graphics and photos of past players to dress up the place and “tell the school’s story,” as Roberson loves to say. The impression that design makes on a recruit can sometimes be as important as the coach or the school’s history, Roberson tells his clients.

Dustin Clark, Maryland’s director of basketball operations, said the project gave the Comcast halls a “pop” they didn’t have before. The Under Armour gear display with mannequins wearing uniforms and a dozen shoe combinations is about 20 feet in length near the Terps’ locker room. It has emerged as one of the most popular facets of a recruit’s visit, Clark said.

“We’re hearing from more and more people about how they want to portray their gear, sort of following in the footsteps of those other schools like USC and Maryland,” Roberson said. “Even when you think about ‘Ironman,’ you think about the battle armor and you realize that there’s a lot of drama and panache and intricacy in the gear.”

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