Simone Biles’s recent walkout from the big brand — Nike, raised the eyebrows of many. She was the second female athlete to split from the brand to join a relatively smaller brand.
Biles being a superstar gymnast felt she did not receive fair attention and close-ups in the recent Nike ad celebrating black female athletes, as much as Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka did.
Being a star and not valued enough, can never go well in a partnership.
As per Statista, Nike spent 3.59 billion dollars in sponsors during 2020. With such a mind-boggling figure, it can be understood how much profit the brand is reaping through its clients. Despite the recent split from a couple of female star athletes it still manages to remain numero uno in the business.
For a fair understanding of its deep roots in its business, it is indispensable to get into a little bit of history about the company.
How it all started
Nike was founded in 1964 by Phil Knight, originally under the name of Blue-Ribbon sports. Initially, the company started off by reselling a Japanese brand Onitsuka Tiger. With an exponentially increasing demand for these comfortable shoes, Phil along with his College coach Bill Bowerman redesigned the Japanese brand. As luck would have it, they were able to sell their product to 1972 Olympians. This strategy of theirs worked well, 4 out of the top 7 finishers on the Olympics were wearing their brand.
The Duo further strengthened their brand by bringing in a few design changes for comfort, like adding a cushioned sole in the middle and wedged heels. This design was an instant hit and dominated the market for the entire ’80s and 90’s giving rise to the brand name ‘NIKE’.
The difficult part in being an entrepreneur is defining and establishing the brand, once this is accomplished, it is all about sustainability.
Right from the start, the brand remained sharp in roping in the right and top sports stars for their brand. This has remained their marketing strategy until now, and they have been successful in getting it done. Matching their company’s motto, Nike came with their catchy tagline “Just Do It” in 1988.
Nike and its Male athletes
Nike’s trajectory took a turn for the better when Michael Jordan signed his deal with Nike. The deal did seem beneficial for both parties in promoting their respective brands. Nike’s brand name was associated with stalwarts like Lebron James, Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, and many more.
Nike always made deliberate attempts to keep itself abreast of the Societal changes. Right from featuring HIV-positive long-distance runner Ric Munoz to the recent “You can’t stop us” ad, the company has tried to remain inclusive of all genders and races. Although there was a severe backlash in featuring Colin Kaepernick as the face of ‘Nike’s Just Do it’ campaign, few critics considered this as the company’s masterstroke in selling their brand.
But, it cannot be a slam dunk all the time.
Nike’s decision on nixing the deal with Kobe Bryant after his death was not received well by the NBA superstar’s family. Though Nike came with an explanation that it did not want to make a business out of someone’s death, basketball fanatics were frenzied about the unavailability of their icon’s signature shoes. Nike’s intentions could not keep away infiltrations into Bryant’s signature shoe market.
Once in controversy, always in a controversy
Nike and its female athletes
Female superstar athletes have been an integral part of Nike’s campaign throughout the years including faces like Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, and many more. They felt privileged and honored to work in partnership with the brand.
But the mindset saw a shift when the avaricious mindset of NIKE expected ‘A win at all cost’ from their female clients.
Allyson Felix was the first to call out on Nike and its bad pregnancy policies. The endorsement giant was accused of penalizing female athletes through their pregnancy phase by announcing pay cuts.
Following her call out Olympian runners Alysia Montaño and Kara Goucher came in Felix’s defense by revealing their pregnancy stories as well. Earlier Nike contracts required that the female athletes had to remain in shape and should have participated in a certain number of races to earn money, unlike many of the many men athletes.
Kara Goucher revealed to the NYTimes that she was forced to leave her sick newborn alone in a hospital so she could train for a race.
She also added that the company wanted to pay 70% less during pregnancy.
It is to be noted that following this outcry, Nike has changed its pregnancy policies. The later modified policy included those female athletes will be paid for 18 months, 8 months before birth, and 10 months after.
Brands spend money on celebrities to make money. These brands need to give a fair and equal share of importance to all their clients. With the growing awareness around gender equality, the general public expects brands to voice out and show their solidarity in such social causes. The cynical behavior of brands needs to be called out when their actions differ from what they preach. Though faces like Serena Williams have come in defense of Nike and expressed that the company is learning from its mistake, a lot needs to be changed. The recent nix of partnership by Simone Biles has revealed that not much has changed. It is not a mere change in policies but rather change in mindset is required. NIKE is just not able to do it anymore!