NFL: Colin Kaepernick campaign sparks outrage, Nike boycott calls

  • 05/09/2018

Protesters burned their Nike shoes, investors sold shares and some consumers demanded a boycott, after the footwear and apparel maker launched an advertising campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who sparked a national controversy by kneeling during the national anthem.

But the brand recognition that comes with the campaign may be just what the company wanted and marketing experts predicted it would ultimately succeed.

The ad revived a raging debate in the United States that started in 2016, when Kaepernick, then with the San Francisco 49ers, began kneeling to protest police shootings of unarmed black men.

"This is right on the money for Nike," said Erich Joachimsthaler, CEO of strategy consulting firm Vivaldi. "They stand for this irreverent, rebellious attitude.

"In this case, it's reinforcing the brand." 

While some fans praised Kaepernick and other players who joined him in kneeling as patriotic dissenters, critics - led by US President Donald Trump - blasted the protesters as ungrateful and disrespectful.

Trump called Nike's campaign "a terrible decision" in an interview with the Daily Caller published on Tuesday, but he also showed some respect for Kaepernick's right to speak out.

"As much as I disagree with the Colin Kaepernick endorsement, in another way... I mean, I wouldn't have done it," Trump said.

"In another way, it is what this country is all about, that you have certain freedoms to do things that other people think you shouldn't do." 

The NFL, which gave in to pressure from Trump and ordered players not to kneel on the field during the anthem, nonetheless praised Kaepernick.

"The social justice issues that Colin and other professional athletes have raised deserve our attention and action," said Jocelyn Moore, the NFL's executive vice president of communications and public affairs.

Nike has sponsored Kaepernick since 2011 and said he would be one of several faces for a campaign marking the 30th anniversary of its 'Just Do It' slogan.

The ad refers to Kaepernick's loss of NFL income with the quote: "Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything."

Some who were offended by the choice posted social-media pictures of Nike shoes set on fire or socks with the Nike swoosh cut out.

Athletes including Serena Williams, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul showed support.

The controversy may have been a convenient excuse for some investors to sell an over-valued stock, Vivaldi's Joachimsthaler said.

Matt Powell, a senior adviser with market research firm NPD Group, predicted the boycott would fizzle.

"Old angry white guys are not a core demographic for Nike," he said.