Nike almost dropped Colin Kaepernick from its roster of sponsored athletes in 2017, according to a report by The New York Times.
Kaepernick was signed by Nike in 2011 when he still played for the San Francisco 49ers. But, when Kaepernick became a free agent amid criticism of his protest against racial injustice and police brutality, Nike marketing executives debated whether they should keep the quarterback.
The company decided to retain Kaepernick to avoid a backlash for dropping him, but chose not to use him in any campaigns or use his name on apparel. Kaepernick’s legal team did however call on Nike to fulfill its contractual obligations.
As NYT put it: “Nike, along with most apparel companies, is desperate to attract urban youth who increasingly look up to Kaepernick; the largely white, older N.F.L. fans angry at the league over the protests are not a priority for those companies, analysts say.”
Then, this summer, at the urging of its advertising firm and after weighing the potential ramifications with the NFL, Nike decided to use Kaepernick as the face of its 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign. Though Nike’s partnership with the NFL has shrunken compared to previous years, the NFL has a lot of power in the industry and can decide what ads play during the Super Bowl.
“Through interviews with current and former Nike employees, individuals close to Kaepernick, analysts and others involved with the ad campaign, a picture emerged of Nike’s about-face in which the company concluded that getting behind Kaepernick’s crusade, at the urging of its longtime advertising firm, made good business sense despite the risk of angering the N.F.L.,” the article reads.
At this point it’s unclear whether or not the risk paid off. The campaign was lauded on social media and last week Nike’s stock closed at an all-time high of more than $85 a share. On Wednesday, however, shares fell as much as 3 percent after the company disappointed Wall Street by not raising its full-year forecast.
In other news, meet the street running crew empowering young people and local communities with support from Nike.