Athletic partners range from corporate to local

By Sean Connor

With donations ranging from world-wide corporations to the home-town bar and grill, the NIU Athletics Department partially funds its 496 athletes and 17 athletic programs.

Gatorade, Adidas, Pepsi, Allstate, Applebee’s, Castle Bank, Fatty’s, Culver’s and the Rochelle Comfort Inn & Suites, amongst others, come together to compile dollars the NIU athletics department requires to provide what Athletics Director Jim Phillips calls a “world-class opportunity” for its athletes.

With the recent success of the NIU football team, Phillips has been able to strike new four-year deals with Gatorade and Adidas in order to accommodate NIU’s athletic needs, as well as a radio deal with the Chicago-based 670 WSCR-AM, “The Score,” which broadcasts all NIU football games, and will cover 20 men’s basketball games.

“The deals [with Adidas and Gatorade] were initiated by me,” Phillips said. “It was important to take advantage of my prior relationships that began at Tennessee and Notre Dame.”

Though Gatorade was supplying NIU with coolers and cups, along with other supplies prior to the deal, Phillips said NIU did not have an official agreement.

“[Phillips,] being known in the industry and having a relationship with Gatorade really kicked everything off,” said Gatorade representative Jeff Chieng.

Chieng said NIU will receive “tens-of-thousands of dollars per year” in Gatorade equipment, but said he’s not allowed to disclose the terms of the deal.

However, NIU’s recent success in football, along with television exposure, has put it in good terms with Gatorade.

Glen Krupica, associate athletics director and head of external affairs for NIU, said the Huskies are getting a fair deal and probably doing better than a lot of schools in the MAC.

“We use what are called impression rankings to evaluate schools,” Chieng said. “Success in football and men’s basketball, while being local to Chicago, and our need to have a good relationship with a local university that plays in a strong conference [MAC] all played a role in that evaluation.”

Chieng also said Gatorade’s definition of success is analyzed over long periods of time, not on a year-by-year basis.

Phillips said the Gatorade deal included, among other incentives, cups, coolers, towels, water bottles and products to be distributed for the summer camps that NIU hosts.


How do businesses like Fatty’s Bar and Grill, 1312 West Lincoln Highway, and Castle Bank contribute to NIU’s athletics dollars if Gatorade and Adidas supply thousands of dollars in equipment?

Fatty’s manager Jennifer White said the business donates approximately $5,000 annually to NIU athletics.

However, it’s what White calls “gifts in kind” that establishes Fatty’s position with NIU.

“We put on lunches for teams like baseball and basketball,” White said. “We realized there were no other establishments out there a few years back, and we had players working for us, so we struck a relationship with NIU.”

White said Fatty’s deal with NIU began when the establishment moved from where The Barn, 1215 Blackhawk Road, sits now.

“Our relationship has been unbelievable,” White said. “Whatever sport that’s been in season, we’ve had steady business.”

Fatty’s also has set up tailgate tents at every game this year, even at Michigan and Northwestern.

However, Fatty’s had to withdraw from its deal with the men’s basketball team last year, after a tent on the north side of the stadium before games did not draw the number of people it expected.


NIU athletics is beginning to receive the financial backing it needs to grow as a whole, but isn’t it a two-way street?

Phillips said in return, NIU has tried to market the name brands more than in previous years.

In post-game shows, Phillips said NIU has added the Adidas logo to the backdrop during press conferences.

Also, Allstate insurance has added its logo to the field goal net at the south end of Huskie Stadium, showing NIU football “is in good hands” every time kicker Chris Nendick knocks one through the uprights.

“It’s a national program that’s great to be a part of,” Krupica said of the Allstate deal. “It creates sponsorship and exposure country-wide.”

As for Fatty’s, White said hosting “The Coach’s Corner,” where NIU football coach Joe Novak and other athletics department staff are interviewed over the radio, has created a lot of exposure.

“It works both ways,” White said. “We’ll continue to donate more as our relationship builds with NIU.”


The athletes have the equipment and local backing. Where’s the rest of the money to support the program come from?

In the first 107 years of NIU’s history, the athletics program had received one donation of more than $100,000.

In the past 12 months Phillips, Novak and the athletics program have brought in 20 donations of $100,000 or more, and also two $1,000,000 donations.

Donations to athletics go through the NIU Foundation or the Huskie Club. When donations are taken, donors can mark them as unrestricted or restricted.

Tekla Martin, Director of the Annual Fund in the Athletics Department said unrestricted donations are put into a pool where the money is distributed to NIU’s teams based on need.

Martin said restricted donations go to a specific team or area of athletics, and along with private donations, are the key to funding the teams.

“We raise the annual dollars within the athletic department for each team,” Martin said. “Some of it becomes operational. The budget for each team [through the University] sometimes isn’t adequate, so private donations are a big key.”

Restricted donations can pay for things ranging from travel to uniforms and equipment, Martin said.

In the 2002-03 fiscal year the private donations to NIU athletics went up 55 percent and went up another 29 percent in the ‘03-’04 fiscal year, where 60 percent of the donations were restricted.

The NIU football team received 17 percent of total donations in Fiscal Year 04-05, meaning the other 83 percent was distributed among the other 16 sports programs.


The Academic and Athletic Performance Center is less than $400,000 away from ground-breaking, Phillips said Tuesday.

But after it’s finished, what’s the next step and what happens to all the deals and donations if the football team doesn’t continue its success?

“It’s obviously the most visible program,” Krupica said. “The fact that we’ve reached a higher level of competitiveness creates higher expectations. But is it real critical the football team continues to play great? No. But they are key.”

Ever since the team went 6-5 in 2000, NIU’s football team peaked at 10-2 in 2003, receiving a bowl game the following year. But now the team is 3-3, with running backs Garrett Wolfe and A.J. Harris nursing injuries.

“Our deals with Gatorade and Adidas go through the 2009-10 academic year,” Phillips said. “We have good stability with these deals. With football, like any other area, we’ll have some down years. But we expect to continue what’s been accomplished.”

Once the new facility is built outside the north end zone of Huskie Stadium, assistant athletics director and head of development Tim Stedman said the Huskies will look to upgrade the rest of the teams.

“The Olympic sports like baseball, softball, track, tennis etc. have needs to be addressed,” Stedman said. “Our first goal is to put an annual fund strategy in place. Next we will explore the feasibility of special projects for the other sports.”

Stedman said future projects will include installing lights on the soccer field, a practice facility for golf, upgrading the baseball and softball fields, locker rooms for baseball, softball, soccer and track and installing a track for the cross-country and track programs.

“It’s important to be able to articulate and state the case as to why we need to continue funding our athletics programs,” Phillips said. “Everyone wants success and there’s a price to doing business. We need an indoor facility, but also several programs here have no lights for their fields or locker rooms. Other schools in the MAC have that and in order to compete we need that at NIU. Our situation is no different than if the Engineering School needed more space, more faculty or better technology. We’re providing resources for our young people at NIU to be successful.”

Toledo built an indoor practice facility in 1990. Since then, the NIU football team has not beat Toledo.