UPDATED with NFL statement, 2:15 PM: A day after word surfaced that former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been retained by Nike for the 30th anniversary round of the company’s fabled “Just do it” ads, the NFL is offering a surprising nod of support for Kaepernick.
“The National Football League believes in dialogue, understanding and unity. We embrace the role and responsibility of everyone involved with this game to promote meaningful, positive change in our communities,” said Jocelyn Moore, the NFL’s Executive Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs in a statement. “The social justice issues that Colin and other professional athletes have raised deserve our attention and action.”
That twist follows a trading session when stock in Nike took a significant hit, shedding $2.60 (or more than 3%) to close at $79.60 after Sunday’s revelation that the company has partnered with Kaepernick.
Even after the drop, the company’s shares remain near a 52-week high amid strong fundamentals and financials. But there was major public blowback over the decision to partner with Kaepernick, the onetime Super Bowl quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers who last played in 2016 amid his commitment to kneeling during the national anthem.
Making all of this even more complicated, Kaepernick has sued the NFL for collusion. His suit alleges that all 32 teams systematically froze him out despite his evident athletic ability because they blamed him for instigating protests that have dinged ratings and the NFL’s image. This year’s season kicks off Thursday night on NBC.
Already a lightning rod, the quarterback-turned-activist became a trending topic again Sunday night when he shared a post with the message “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” superimposed on a photo of his face. Nike’s “Just do it” tagline was at the bottom.
Other well-known athletes, including Serena Williams and Odell Beckham have also been mobilized for new ads. (And the company’s starry roster also still includes LeBron James.) Kaepernick has been a Nike ambassador since 2011 but has kept it low-profile until now. Kaepernick’s new deal immediately spawned the hashtag #BoycottNike and social-media outrage, with images of people burning, shredding or otherwise destroying their Nike gear. That response follows on the heels of President Donald Trump agitating against protesting NFL players, calling them “sons of bitches” and blasting the league as “weak” for accommodating the anthem protests.
The calls for a boycott help explain the short-term hit to the stock, but many Wall Street analysts who cover the company say Nike is simply placing a well-informed bet on public sentiment. It wants to offer a message that is consistent with younger customers, especially around the world. Not only are many customers opposed to Trump, but the larger social forces Kaepernick has pointed to — police tactics, social injustice, economic inequality, etc. — are passion points for a lot of sneaker-and-shorts buyers as well. Plus, the outrage itself is a pretty potent marketing tool. (Anyone remember the old Dennis Hopper ads?)
“We commend Nike for its willingness to partake in a more edgy, risky advertising campaign while refreshing its 30-year old ‘Just Do It’ campaign,” Brian Nagel, an analyst at Oppenheimer wrote. “The extensive roster of athletes and their powerful stories are core to the company’s stepped up efforts in reaching a younger demographic. Over the past year or so, Nike’s dominant market share has eroded somewhat as other players have been gaining steam, and we think today’s announcement is clearly an effective way to make some noise in the industry, regardless of any political bent.”
Here are a few reactions on social media: