It’s the Nike ad heard ‘round the world. A black and white image of Colin Kaepernick with the words “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” running across the middle of the frame has already become an icon in the ongoing ideological battle that encompasses racial profiling and discrimination, police brutality, a system that protects its own and the right to protest the national anthem while working for an NFL team.
Kaepernick and Nike Versus the National Football League
Nike and Kaepernick both have complicated histories and entanglements with the National Football League.
Nike, for example, is both a corporate sponsor and the official provider of uniforms for the NFL. For anyone keeping count, that’s the same NFL that Kaepernick has filed a collusion grievance against.
Kaepernick’s grievance accuses owners and the league itself of locking him out of signing with any professional team (he’s been off the field since 2016) due to his protests. In early September, an arbitrator ruled that there was enough information to hold a proper trial, giving Kaepernick’s official grievance real teeth.
Nike: What Was Lost and What Was Gained
Kaepernick has been in Nike’s stable since 2011, but rarely taken out to show. It was an unexpected move when the athletic company that encourages everyone to “Just do it.” put their own words into action as part of the slogan’s 30th anniversary celebration.
However, what wasn’t surprising was the hard hit Nike stock took by choosing the controversial player as one of the faces of said celebration. Kaepernick has been a polarizing figure since he became the accidental founder of a movement that now has players across the NFL kneeling during the national anthem in what he told NFL.com was a protest against “a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
On the first workday after the long Labor Day holiday, Nike stocks closed down about 3.2 percent, at $79.01, from $82.18, alarming investors. The drama was a bit unfounded, though since the stock had maintained a price above $81.00 only since August 20 and saw $79.00 for the first time in early July.
Otherwise, Nike has been a pretty steady, safe bet over the long haul, contrary to investors’ cries today. So far this year, its shares have gained about 27.5 percent, despite the Kaepernick Nike ad. Many suspect that this was a calculated risk that Nike took on purpose, knowing that history, and not the stock market, would decide which was the side of right.
Risky Move: Yay or Nay?
The Nike ad campaign is meant to celebrate athletes coming from the least likely places.
Since the slogan “Just Do It,” was first used, people who no one expected anything of have been highlighted in promotional materials. This promo will be no different, though it does feature professional athletes exclusively.
Along with Kaepernick, brand athletes Odell Beckham, Jr, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Shaquem Griffin and skateboarder Lacey Baker are featured in an attempt to connect with younger customers. Despite the risk that Kaepernick represented, Nike chose to use his image to reach a generation in need of real life heroes of color.
“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,” Nike VP for North America, Gino Fisanotti, said in an ESPN interview, according to Ad Week.
The immediate backlash was rash and fast, but with Nike stock already recovering just a few days after the announcement (at $82.10 as of the writing of this article), there’s no evidence that indicates that Kaepernick’s image will ultimately do anything but draw more attention to the brand than the marketing campaign would have done with a less controversial figure.
“This is a company that’s not afraid to take sides,” Frost Investment Advisors’ Chief Investment Officer, Tom Stringfellow, told CNN in response to the Nike ad. “It’s part of the brand to be controversial and get their name out there.”