Nike has become the focal point of the ongoing Colin Kaepernick vs. the NFL debate, especially after becoming the face of their campaign meant to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of “Just Do It.” Now, sources are claiming the sports apparel company wasn’t always so sure about whose side to take.
Thursday, it was reported that execs at Nike were on the verge of ditching Kaepernick just months before he was ultimately unveiled as the face of their new marketing strategy; an endeavor that won them favor amongst his supporters and boosted the brand’s value by $6 billion in record time.
Allegedly, the man who was able to talk some sense into the Nike powers that be is Nigel Powell, the company’s head of communications. Powell, according to the New York Times, passionately argued that breaking ties with the former quarterback could result in backlash from both the media and the brand’s loyal consumers.
Thanks to Powell’s plea to remain on the right side of history, stakeholders at the company as well members of its ad agency, Widen and Kennedy, came around and acknowledged that there could be value in positioning the brand alongside Kaepernick.
Nike originally signed Kaepernick in 2011, but had let their relationship with him go lax over the last two years while he became more politically active. Nike has also been making all of the NFL jerseys since 2012 and just signed an eight-year extension with the league in March, so there were also some concerns about a conflict of interest.
On Labor Day they seemingly drew a clear line in the sand by unveiling a close-up shot on Kaepernick’s face and hyping up their new spokesman all over social media.
In 2017, top executives in Nike’s sports marketing group were about to cut Colin Kaepernick from Nike’s sponsorship roster. Then the company’s head of communications learned of the decision and “went ballistic.” https://t.co/RwAKHqBVuA
— The New York Times (@nytimes) September 27, 2018
“We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward,” Gino Fisanotti, Nike’s vice president of brand for North America, told ESPN.
“We wanted to energize its meaning and introduce ‘Just Do It’ to a new generation of athletes,” added Fisanotti, who also said the campaign is aimed at Generation Z, specifically 15- to 17-year olds.
Immediately after the new collaboration was announced, people on the other side of the kneeling debate began to protest by posting images and videos of them burning Nike gear that they’d already bought and paid for (some even doing so while wearing the merchandise.)
Nike is getting a lot of love because of their Kaepernick ad, but they're also donating money to the GOP. pic.twitter.com/UD2oS53i3s
— AJ+ (@ajplus) September 27, 2018
Follow the money
While the brand now has $6 billion more reasons to stick by Kaepernick’s side, fans are questioning where some of that money is going, with reports surfacing this week claiming that Nike is donating money to the Republican Party while riding high on a wave of liberal support.
According to Yahoo Sports, “Nike employees and its political action committee have donated more than three times as much money to Republican candidates as democratic challengers for the 2018 election season.”
As a company, Nike employees have given $424,000 to the GOP compared to $122,000 to Democrats; with nearly half of those funds coming from co-founder Phil Knight and his family.
Nike World Headquarters are located Beaverton, Oregon and in that area the Knight family has also given $1.5 million to Republican Knute Buehler in his race for Oregon governor against incumbent Democrat Kate Brown. Making their contribution the largest individual donation to an Oregon candidate since the state started electronically tracking such dealings in 2006.
We know you can’t judge a whole company by the actions of one CEO, but it certainly puts a damper on things for those who see the brand as a beacon of progressive ideals.
Nigel Powell is definitely the unsung hero in this story.