Nike has made the news recently because of their new ad campaign surrounding former NFL QB Colin Kaepernick. This has set them up to be maybe the most recognized brand in the United States if it is not already.
For those who do not know, Colin Kaepernick was a starting quarterback in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers. When he first became the starting quarterback he played exceptionally well and led his team to the Super Bowl. He signed a large contract, but following that him and his teammates around him began to regress. To make a long story short, the team underperformed in the years after. Two consecutive head coaches were fired and Kapernick was no longer playing as well. In 2016 Kapernick began to make headlines in the pre-season after he was seen sitting during the national anthem. When asked why he explained the reason was to silently protest against police brutality targeting black americans. He felt it would be “selfish on [his] part to looks the other way,” and he wanted to use his platform as a professional athlete to make a statement. After this controversy first arose, Colin Kaepernick met with Nate Boyer to discuss his protest because he did not want his protest to be thought of as disrespectful to the military. Boyer is a former US Army Green Beret and served multiple tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Together, Kapernick and Boyer came to the agreement that rather than sitting during the national anthem Kaepernick should protest by kneeling. In the next 49ers game Boyer stood right beside a kneeling Kapernick during the national anthem.
Kneeling during the National Anthem began to spread across the NFL as other players joined in to show support of his protest. Although rooted in good cause, the protest received a lot of backlash almost immediately. Some of the public took it as disrespect to the US Military and the country itself and were very vocal about it. This included people burning their Kaepernick jerseys. At the same time though, Kaepernick’s jersey was the top seller in the NFL shop despite him not playing very well. This was a dramatic change from the off-season where I personally saw his jerseys on sale for less than $10 at a Nike outlet store. This was before the season he started kneeling. Other jerseys were on sale as well but the other jerseys were from players who had changed teams in the off-season. Kaepernick’s was the only jersey where he was still playing for the same team.
Along with the protests, the 49ers had another disappointing season and there were rumors of trust issues between the 49ers front office and Kaepernick. In the off-season to follow, Kaepernick declined his player option to continue playing with the 49ers and decided to become a free agent. This meant he could sign with any team with no restrictions. He was not signed by any teams and was not even given a workout from many teams in need of a quarterback. People were saying that his talent level did not warrant the amount of media presence his protests bring to the team. Side-note; Football Coaches hate media. The University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban has called the media poison while speaking directly to them. The media is viewed as a major distraction to the football team and coaches will prefer to have as little to no media around the team as possible. Now while I agree that in some cases, even having a very talented player on your team is not worth the distraction that comes with them. The NFL has had a lot of bad quarterback play lately. Every team has at least two quarterbacks on their team, a starter and a backup. There are 32 teams in the NFL so that gives us a minimum of 64 employed NFL quarterbacks. Although Kaepernick may not play well enough to be a starter he is certainly more than qualified to be a backup. He may not be the best but there are not 64 quarterbacks better than Colin Kaepernick. This has allowed Kaepernick to build a collusion case against the NFL with his claims that he has been blackballed from playing in the NFL by the owners due to his protests.
The following season began and although Kaepernick was not in the league other players were still kneeling. This caught the attention of US President Donald Trump who referred to the NFL players as “sons of bitches”. This offended a lot of players and once Trump said that the protests took on a whole new meaning. Not only were players kneeling to protest racism and police brutality, they were also kneeling in protest to Trump as president. This gave their protest even more media attention and backlash came from fans burning jerseys or other various team memorabilia. Trump claimed that the NFLs rating were declining because of these protests. Now although some people may have stopped watching football because of these issues, they are in the minority. The NFL has more exposure than ever before. People are consuming the content differently than just watching on TV. We live in an age of internet and social media. There have never been more ways to consume football including fantasy football which continues to grow in popularity. The NFL has shown no signs of slowing down or losing any profits. With sports betting becoming legal, the NFLs popularity should continue to see growth as well.
Now like many high level athletes, Kaepernick has a sponsorship deal with Nike. There is perhaps no company that has built their brand up around the sponsorship of their athletes better than Nike. Starting with Michael Jordan in the mid 80s. Nike was the first company to release a signature shoe for an athlete with the Air Jordan 1. Nike was then able to capitalize on Jordan’s meteoric rise to super stardom through the 90s. During that time Nike has continued sponsoring athletes in many different sports and come out with varieties of different athletic and lifestyle apparel. Their sponsorship of top level athletes in all sports, and their marketing surrounding them, has given their products a high quality reputation. Cristiano Ronaldo* and LeBron James are currently the worlds two most famous athletes according to this list by business insider. Also six of the top seven athletes on that list have sponsorship deals with Nike.
Today Nike is arguably the most recognizable brand in athletic wear. You may be wondering ‘how can this new ad campaign surrounding Colin Kaepernick make the company grow anymore than it is?’ The reason why is because of what Colin Kaepernick has stood for to this generation. Muhammad Ali was unable to compete in boxing during the prime of his career, due to his refusal to fight in the Vietnam war. Since that time the United States has not seen an athlete that has been denied the chance to play or compete because of their political views. Since Colin Kaepernick started his protest his public image has changed from a professional athlete to a social justice activist. While he did not play in the NFL last season, Kaepernick donated over $1 million to various charities around the US. His initial protest and this ad campaign have put President Trump, who tweeted his disapproval right away, firmly against him and Nike. Whether the opinion is right or wrong, Trump is exhibited as a bigoted racist to this generation. As mentioned before Nike has built their brand around athletes, the majority of which are black and are not supportive of President Trump (Im not fact checking this but I don’t think any Nike athlete has made any comments publicly supporting Trump). Even before this ad deal Nike has been a very prominent brand amongst the black community especially because of their shoes. This started with the Air Jordans in the early 90s and Nike’s popularity has not stopped growing since then.
Some people are very upset about Nike’s stance and have taken to social media to show them burning their Nike stuff. The majority of which are seemingly Trump supporters who see Kaepernick’s protest as disrespectful and would appear to be unwilling to listen to the rationale behind Kaepernick’s protest. What Nike has done with this ad campaign is essentially turned their “Swoosh” logo into something much more. Not only does it say that you are wearing high quality athletic gear, it also puts you on the other side of these people who are burning their gear. This has turned the Nike logo into a symbol that you do not support the current wrong doings of our society and president. This is a logo planting you firmly on the other side of Donald Trump. Nike has turned their logo into a much cooler version of the safety pin that people were wearing when Trump was initially elected. Now wearing a shirt with a Nike logo on your chest says the same thing (and you don’t look like a fucking loser with a lame safety pin on your shirt) and looks way better. One of Nike’s strengths throughout the years has been marketing around their elite level athletes. As mentioned earlier most of these athletes are black and have been vocal in their displeasure with Donald Trump. Nike has essentially reinvested into themselves by giving their athletes another reason to wear their gear other than just to play sports. The Nike Swoosh is becoming the first logo to have a firm anti-Trump stance. Now when you buy Nike, you are not just buying another name brand piece of clothing. You are planting your foot firmly on the right side of history and against Donald Trump.
Nike creates the uniforms for every team in the NFL and the NBA. They also sponsor a high number of athletes in both leagues as well. With the NFL season starting on Thursday and the NBA season in mid October the Nike logo will have repeated visibility. The athletes now have extra motivation to wear their Nike gear. LeBron James has been very vocal about his displeasure for Donald Trump. Now when he steps onto the court in his new LeBron 16s he’s not just doing so to try to move more Nike gear. He is showing that he is against Donald Trump, and he doesn’t have to say a word. For these reasons I believe Nike’s stock will continue to rise from now through mid to late June when the NBA season is over.
*side-note maybe the Nike sponsorship is why Cristiano Ronaldo would routinely take his shirt off after scoring goals as the team he has played for Real Madrid’s uniforms are made by Adidas. Just something to think about and pay attention to as his new club Juventus is also sponsored by Adidas.