Sports Management

Nike’s Kaepernick campaign controversy – Whether it was a smart move to capitalize on political issues


Racism is always been a hurdle for the basic structure and growth of any team, organization, state and country. If we speak about the widespread racism in United States since the colonial era, the face of it changed throughout the years. Also, time to time people protested against the legal and socially sanctioned privileges and rights were provided to the white Americans but denied to other races.

The history of black Americans discrimination in the United States is widespread and ruthless. While we can see the viewpoints of white Americans might have changed throughout the past decades but surveys by organizations such as ABC News have found that even in Modern America, huge segment of Americans admit of holding discriminatory and racist viewpoints. But, during the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama and his election in 2008 as the first black President of the US, as a sign that the nation had entered a new, post racial era; However the discrimination and protests were still going on, and the recent example of it was during August 2017 rally.

Also, during time and on, sportspersons protested against the racism during various sports events. However, on 2nd September 2018 Nike signed Colin Kaepernick as the new face of Nike “Just Do It” campaign for its 30th anniversary it created the controversy around the brand on social media. People started to post videos in which they were burning Nike shoes to show their anger against the Nike’s act of signing Colin KAepernick.  For the span of 3 days twitter was full of Boycott Nike videos and hatred against the brand that even President Trump also tweeted about the same.

If we go into the details, the whole controversy has its roots in from the year 2016’s protest of Colin Kaepernick’s, the American Football star who started “take a knee” National anthem protest  against police brutality. In the 49ers third preseason of the 2016 season, Colin Kaepernick was noticed sitting down during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as opposed to the tradition of standing. The protests actually started 21 months ago when he used to sit on the bench during the national anthem but got the attention of eyes when he kneeled down  to protest and explained his stand as “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder ” He referred to the series of event that took place during that time and added to that he said that he would continue to protest until he feels like the American flag represents what it’s supposed to represent.

In 49ers fourth and final preseason game of 2016, Kaepernick opted to kneel during the National anthem rather than sit as he did in the previous games. Kaepenick soon became target of numerous people took public stances either supporting or maligning Kaepernick’s action.

What is the Effect of this controversy on Nike’s brand image –

If we look at it from the traditional way brands generally stay away from controversial sports persons which can malign their brand’s image into the eyes of their consumers. Brands generally stay away from any such ideology or motive; Recent examples are Maria Sharapova and Oscar Pistorious. They apparently lost their endorsement deals after a doping allegation and culpable homicide case respectively.

But in Nike’s case the results are tremendously shocking even after the outrage on twitter.

A report from Edison Trends says Nike’s online sales grew 31% from Sunday through Tuesday. That’s better than last year’s 17 % seasonal increase.

The company  uphold the statement that “There was a speculation that the Nike/Kaepernick campaign would lead to a drop in sales but the data does not support that theory ”

Nike stock full from more than 3% when they first announced the endorsement deal with Colin Kaepernick. Also, when the shares are still low as compare to before the deal, but Apex marketing Group notes that despite the backlash Nike has received more than $43 million worth of media exposure and positioned itself as a risk-taker.

Also, Jerry Falwell, Jr., the President of Liberty University told USA today Sports that Nike’s ad campaign centered around Colin Kaepernick might cause the school to re-consider its relationship with the apparel company, which signed a contract last year to outfit Liberty’s athletic teams through 2024.

According to Paul R, Founder of Purple Salt Media, This is one the smart moves of Nike. If you see the trend of buying scene in US a lot of people buy Nike products and a big part of them are Black Americans. Nike is not about just sports anymore they have an amalgam of art, culture and sports. The artists are new rebel with a voice on social media and Nike wants to capitalize on it.


Here I think, Nike is trying to maintain its stand more towards the social issues to grab the hold of Modern America and also taking sports as a  medium to convey a message to a large segment of audience is a strategically great move to show its support by saying “they care” and they support out of the way approach and stand of people.

Here is the picture of launch campaign of the Nike.  It simply points towards the three basic criteria they kept into mind.

First, The consumers are mostly youngsters. The youth do not follow go with the flow theory anymore, if something goes wrong they raise their voice to correct it. They are creators, leaders and go out of the way with their belief even if it makes them rebel. Rebel is a new Cool.

Second, Its all about playing psychologically with the minds of consumers, yes we care, yes we are also aware, yes we know what’s going on, if we are supporting them, we will support you as well. Empathy – Empathy is boon to marketing and it works better than sympathy. Nike is trying to empathize with the bigger sector of its consumer base which is much more than only white Americans.

Third, It was a calculated risk of bad publicity gone right, When even NFL is not giving chance to Colin Kaepernick to play, Nike has made him face of their campaign. After 2016 protest incident also, Donald Trump criticized such protests and advocated to fire or suspend such players from the NFL. This campaign was meant to raise the controversy.

Let me know your thoughts about this Nike Controversy in the comment section.

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Ekta Khangawal

Ekta Khangawal is an Advocate and alumna of Faculty of Law, University of Delhi. Currently, She is into Civil and Criminal Litigation in High court and District Courts of Delhi, National Company Law Tribunal, Debt Recovery Tribunal, National Green Tribunal, Rouse Avenue and Punjab & Haryana High Court.

By Ekta Khangawal

Ekta Khangawal is an Advocate and alumna of Faculty of Law, University of Delhi. Currently, She is into Civil and Criminal Litigation in High court and District Courts of Delhi, National Company Law Tribunal, Debt Recovery Tribunal, National Green Tribunal, Rouse Avenue and Punjab & Haryana High Court.

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