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Semi trucks, marching bands and merch: the ramp up to Michigan's Nike mania

Michigan is undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country heading into next weekend's rivalry game in East Lansing against Michigan State.
Flickr user Anthony Gattine/Flickr

Nike’s $170 million sponsorship deal with the University of Michigan officially launches midnight, complete with the marching band and cheer team, and the rollout on the this thing has been a year in the making.

It started the day after Michigan announced it would be leaving Adidas and reuniting with Nike, says Scott Hirth, the co-owner of The M Den.

“The customer drives this, and as soon as Michigan announced Nike, it was crystal clear to us that the customer was going to want this soon as they could get that,” he says. “To us that meant midnight [August 1.]”

From there, he says, the question was: “So how are we going to do midnight?”

Last October, they ordered the Nike merchandise even before it had been designed.

“We got a catalog with every other [Nike] school in it, without Michigan,” Hirth says. “So we ordered some 300 Nike styles to be delivered this July. I can tell you this: we’re on six semi loads [already] and we’ve been spending the last month putting it away, getting it ready to go to the stores.”

Meanwhile, Nike staffers have been doing construction within the M Den stores, taking down Adidas sales racks and displays and building new ones.

“We had to completely redo the website, take all the Adidas stuff off. That’s all done. We had to expand the capacity of our website by 5 or 6 times to be ready for folks at midnight,” Hirth says.

Asked if he’s ever seen something like this kind of Nike-mania, Hirth says, not really.

“No, somebody else asked me that, and the best I can say is, if Michigan were to win a national championship in football. And we lived through that, but the difference is, the licensed goods landscape has changed dramatically since then. It’s a lot bigger animal.”

If this all sounds completely insane, well, ok, that’s fair. But for fans like the McClure guys – dad Randy and sons Austin and Zach – this stuff is just fun.

They’re up visiting from Florida and lifelong Michigan fans (Austin’s never been to a home Michigan game, but he’s got a block “M” tattooed on his right bicep), and while they were supposed to leave on Sunday, the Nike launch is making them rethink their plains.

“And so we're really torn, to stay and get back a little bit late,” says Randy McClure. “But you know, it's Nike! I think there's going to be recruits that come here just for that reason."

Maaaaybe. Either way, this kind of excitement means good money for Nike, the school, and local retailers. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.