Colin Kaepernick has not played football in a few years now, and yet, he has emerged as one of the most important Nike-sponsored athletes in the country.
A few weeks ago, Nike announced that it had made Kaepernick the face of the 30th anniversary of the "Just Do It" campaign. That followed with a graphic advertisement with the tagline "Believe In Something," and a well-received commercial, narrated by the former San Francisco 49ers star.
Nike's stocks initially dipped a bit, but have surged since the Kaepernick roll-out. While it is hard to know what direct impact the campaign has had, it certainly feels like it is has a strong positive impact.
Of course, it nearly never happened.
The New York Timespublished a piece about the process that led us to Nike's Colin Kaepernick campaign, and Nike was close to dumping him last year.
In Spring 2017, according to the piece by Julie Creswell, Kevin Draper and Sapna Maheshwari, there was a serious debate within the company about whether to keep the unsigned and little used Kaepenrick on the Nike roster of athletes.
It was Nigel Powell, head of communications at Nike, that convinced other higher-ups that the public relations hit for releasing Kaepernick would be massive.
Knowing the 49ers were planning to cut him, Kaepernick opted out of his contract in the spring of 2017. When no other team signed him, Nike’s top marketing officials realized they had no idea what to do with him: He didn’t have a team, so they couldn’t put his name on any team gear.
Baffled, top executives in Nike’s sports marketing group decided to end the company’s contract with him, according to a former employee who requested anonymity because of a nondisclosure agreement.
Then Nigel Powell, the longtime head of communications for Nike, learned of the decision and “went ballistic,” the former employee said.
Powell argued that Nike would face backlash from the media and consumers if it was seen as siding with the N.F.L. rather than Kaepernick. And 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.
Kaepernick and his representatives were also unhappy that Nike had effectively kept him on the bench as an endorser.
As his profile rose, and he was honored by publications like GQ and organizations like the ACLU for his activism, Nike made the decision to use Kaepernick in this highly-publicized campaign, despite its relationship with the NFL.
The results thus far have been impressive. Expect to see more, not less, of Kaepernick from the company going forward, less than two years after it nearly kicked him to the curve.