Nike has had a tough few months in the college basketball world following Duke star Zion Williamson’s equipment malfunction, but the apparel giant still dominates rivals when it comes to representation in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Of the 68 college basketball teams tabbed to participate in this year’s March Madness festivities, Nike holds apparel rights to 40 of them, according to Apex Marketing Group. All four teams that earned No. 1 seeds in their respective regions – the Duke Blue Devils, the Virginia Cavaliers, the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the North Carolina Tar Heels – are Nike colleges.
While Nike represents seven fewer teams than it did in last year’s men’s tournament, it holds a commanding lead over other apparel brands. Under Armour has sponsorship deals in place with 17 teams, or one-fourth of the overall field, while Adidas holds rights at 11 schools.
Nike, which posted more than $36 billion in revenue in 2018 alone, drew widespread scrutiny earlier this year after Williamson’s sneaker exploded during a highly anticipated rivalry game with the Tar Heels. The 19-year-old phenom missed several weeks of action with a knee injury after the incident.
The brand responded by meeting with Williamson and legendary Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski to gather details on what happened. Later, Nike executives flew to China to build a customized sneaker for the 285-pound Williamson, complete with more padding, ESPN reported.
“After working closely with the Duke Basketball team to examine the issue, we are confident this was an isolated incident. We continue to work with Duke, and all of our partner programs, to ensure we are providing the best product for their athletes," Nike said in a statement when Williamson returned earlier this month.
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament will holds its “First Four” play-in round on Tuesday and Wednesday. The 64-team tournament begins on Thursday.