No. 307: A Whirlwind Week for Nike

One of the biggest questions asked this week: what will Nike do next? In just seven days, Nike landed three major stories. Known to make the best out of controversial situations, Nike’s biggest brand test may come in early summer 2019. That’s when the brand will be tasked with spinning one of the most embarrassing failures in its recent memory. For Nike – a brand that has positioned itself as a sociological compass as of late: this week began as a test of their evolved brand position. Nike has tended to the question: “how do we address what others have broken?” This week, they were forced to ask: “how do we address what we’ve broken?”

It’s been a whirlwind week for Nike. Five days ago, the biggest amateur basketball star since Lebron James was injured after his shoe malfunctioned in a game. The sporting event was in such high demand that tickets were for sale on the secondary market for nearly $2,900 per seat. Students waited the customary 39 days outside of the Duke arena for their coveted seats. And President Obama made a rare, sideline appearance with his custom Rag & Bone “44” aviator jacket and black Allbirds. When Zion Williamson went down with his knee injury, a television camera panned to the former President who is seen pointing with concern, “his shoe broke.”

It’s been a whirlwind week for Nike. Four days ago, the biggest story in recent NFL history settled an alleged collusion case against the league. The former quarterback’s case against the league’s team owners. The case was said to have some merit and it’s rumored that the cash value was substantial enough to please both sides of the table. The case was settled with complete confidentiality, paving the way for the small chance at a return to the gridiron. Colin Kaepernick, who’s announced signing by Nike caused waves throughout all of sports, released his first product with Nike on the day after the conclusion of his lawsuit. Now a symbol in and of itself, Nike’s simple, generic black jersey with his former number sold out instantly.

It’s been a whirlwind week for Nike. Just one day ago, arguably the greatest athlete of all time voiced and starred in a new Nike ad. Serena Williams narrated over just a few of the recent, iconic moments for women in sports. It was an emotional advertisement directed by Kim Gehrig, the same woman who directed the recent Gillette ad that called toxic masculinity into question. While the Gillette ad was met with, both, praise and disgust – the Serena Williams-narrated project was widely loved. In a matter of hours, the ad was reportedly watched over 17 million times across Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter. Featuring Simone Biles, Chloe Kim, Ibtihaj Muhammad, and several members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, some would argue that Gehrig’s ad was the star of the Oscars – the ad’s broadcast premiere.

In our Member Brief entitled “The Nike Report“, I wrote:

Nike wants to own iconography. And in sport, that also means sports history. For a company that wants to own history, they own very little of it today. If you’re a history enthusiast, you can watch clips of Jesse Owens in 1936 Berlin exhibiting heroics in first-generation Adidas track spikes, hand delivered by Adi Dassler. Or you can watch Muhammad Ali swinging at other boxers with Everlast on display. Now, Under Armour owns his rights in a protective attempt to prevent Nike from using their marketing wizardry to build their cache. And in a similar attempt, Adidas owns the rights to Jackie Robinson.

Nike has always been in the business of iconography: Pre, Jordan, Bo, Tiger, Serena, Agassi, Kobe, and now Lebron. But as the brand’s stock trades at historic highs, the Portland company seems to have its eyes set on more. It’s emphasis has shifted towards its role in sports history, supporting people, social movements, and milestones that may not be as popular in the moment as it will be once the history shifts. History has a way of changing things. The way that consumers view things today may be different in a decade or two. The brand seeks to be on the right side of history – as long as it is or will be profitable. Careful capitalism, if you will.

The Zion Debacle

Nike’s week began with a shoe malfunction during one of amateur sports’ biggest stages and ended with a new ad that made consumers temporarily forget about the high profile injury. But from all accounts – Zion Williamson, himself, is undeterred. Several credible sports news outlets are on record with his plan on returning to the team. In a recent San Francisco Chronicle article, “Why Zion will keep playing at Duke“:

Why? Because he’s a competitor, a joyous athlete having the time of his life. Because he couldn’t imagine quitting on his teammates. Because the NCAA Tournament is one of the grand theaters of sport, giving him exactly the exposure he needs going into the draft. And because there’s nothing more ludicrous than the perception that every high-profile freshman is really just a dimwit who never goes to class and spends 14 hours a day on the basketball court.

Unlike many potential first round draft picks, Zion’s earning potential may actually rise if he closes out his “one and done” season in championship fashion. His brand equity has rare potential. Marketers like Adidas, Nike, and Under Armour pay a premium for athletes who are more than the game that they play. Listen to Zion in a post-game interview. He’s as All-American as a kid can be. From his mannerisms to his charisma and book smarts, he has the potential to transcend the sport that he plays. Much like a few of his predecessors.

Below, is a sortable breakdown of the NBA’s top stars and rookies. Williamson currently ranks number 15 among the combination of high powered NBA veterans breakout rookies. Two of his metrics surpass the median social media interest of the group.

[table id=38 /]

This begs the question, which shoe brand will land Zion? By most accounts, Nike will be the shoe brand that markets a fortified signature shoe for the 6’7″ 290 pound, 19 year old phenom out of Salisbury, North Carolina. Both Duke and UNC are deeply entrenched in Nike lore. Michael Jordan’s brand is adored at his Chapel Hill alma mater. And no college coach in America is paid more by Nike than Duke’s Michael William Krzyzewski.

According to Patrick Rishe, a sports business writer for Forbes, Williamson is looking at a shoe endorsement deal that will yield an annual value of $9-10.5 million. This figure would place him seventh overall, far surpassing the NBA’s existing rookie deals – even the highly inflated Puma deals. And ESPN’s Dan Le Batard was quoted as saying that Williamson’s brand and visibility is worth a rookie contract worth $80 million.

The story of the week was about Nike’s short term recovery. While the brand temporarily lost $1.1 billion in value after the injury, the stock’s devaluing was a red herring of sorts. At the surface, pundits and casual observers viewed the malfunction as a gift to Adidas, Puma, or Under Armour. Summer 2019 is shaping up to another example of Nike’s masterful messaging. All data and smart commentary points to a different conclusion.

Footage of this product malfunction will be on repeat for as long as the young athlete is in the spotlight. It’s part of his Williamson’s story. Nike’s next shoe, specially designed for him, will likely be marketed as ‘fail proof.’ It will be a product advancement and a symbol of material progress. If things go their way, Nike will engineer first shoe made for a giant who plays with the explosive leap and versatility of a player 100 pounds lighter and five inches shorter. Fortunately for Williamson, it’s in Nike’s best interest to offer him one of the richest rookie contracts in its history.

Read the No. 307 curation here.

Report by Web Smith | About 2PM

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.