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Tokyo 2020

Why are decorated Olympians breaking up with Nike?

Decorated Olympians and athletes such as Simone Biles have joined the long list of names to shift from Nike

Decorated Olympian Simone Biles
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Decorated Olympian Simone Biles(Source: Women's Wear Daily)

By

Ananth Narasimman

Updated: 2021-07-24T07:24:41+05:30

Decorated Olympians and athletes such as gymnast Simone Biles, Breanna Stewart and the Ogwumike sisters have joined the long list of names to shift from Nike to other brands causing a chain reaction that has left the multinational brand scratching their heads.

Nike has developed into a brand that has become synonymous with changing the culture and how athletes are marketed. Their larger than life marketing campaigns have always managed to stir emotions and motivate people to be the best versions of themselves while driving home the message to be more action-oriented.

Their tagline 'Just Do It' has gained legendary status and has been used in various instances by people in other industries to motivate their employees. From the legendary superstar Michael Jordan to Tiger Woods, Nike has always marketed their stars in a manner that not only humanizes them but also shows elements that set them apart from the best.

Prime MJ was the best example where Nike utilized Jordan's long list of accomplishments on the court to create the Air Jordan campaigns, taking advantage of the adoration shown to the former Chicago Bulls superstar. Their Air Jordan brand of shoes to date may be the most successful line of sneakers due to MJ's popularity and his mesmerizing athletic feats.

Every kid who grew up watching basketball at some point would have watched Jordan videos and wanted to soar in the air like 'His Airness' himself. Nike's aggressive marketing strategy was a factor for youngsters to grow up with that feeling and connection to their idol.

Their creative advertising campaigns not only highlight their athletes and products but also focus on social issues, which has helped Nike rise from a company to a cultural beacon. Their campaigns with Colin Kapernick, Serena Williams, LeBron James and Megan Rapinoe have managed to grab a place in the hearts of the audience through their powerful impact and messages.

Times have rapidly changed, and so have people's tastes and preferences. We can slowly see a shift from mass marketing to more niche marketing. This also signifies that we now have a more mature audience capable of making informed decisions, who want a more individualized approach to things rather than the herd mentality.
Athletes are no different, with most of them wanting to engage with a brand that not only goes with their ethics and values but also something that they believe in.
Nike still has a bevvy of stars and is the first option for most young athletes coming into their respective sports.However, for older established stars such as Stephen Curry or young superstars such as Lamelo Ball, Nike did not seem to be the right choice.
Other brands such as Puma and Under Armour, focused more on individually utilizing their marketing potential unlike the mainstream approach used by Nike.
The leading shoe brand's disastrous meeting with the former MVP, Curry, put the magnifying glass on Nike's lack of respect since they had a slide featuring then Oklahoma Thunder star Kevin Durant in a presentation to Curry.
The saying, the bigger you are, the lesser you focus on individuals, came true in this case since an aggravated Curry chose to sign with Under Armour, who delivered on the promise made to him by helping him come out with his line of gear and sneakers.
Curry would have stuck with the legendary swoosh had they made a better effort in their approach toward individually marketing him and helping his ideas come to life.
It is more of a partnership than a sponsorship these days since stars focus on brands that match their style, personality, values and outlook on life. Other megastars such as legendary Olympian Simone Biles and Breanna Stewart have followed Curry's lead and have left Nike to partner with brands of their choice.
"Where others saw risk, Puma took advantage of it. Women's basketball players deserve to have signature shoes," said WNBA legend Breanna Stewart when asked about her shift from Nike to Puma, reports The Ringer.
With the current player empowerment era, the options to find an ideal partner has drastically increased hence shifting the power back from the hands of the few to many. Professor Courtney Cox, perfectly explains Nike's predicament by saying, "Athletes are in a position where you start to think about what you need. You think about your own kind of brand and the potential of that.
I think kind of divesting from Nike is just one way that's starting to happen as they're starting to build these new kinds of branding portfolios. Nike is becoming less and less valuable because of this kind of tiering that's happening in terms of who they focus on and who is promoted within these larger corporations," reports Yahoo Sports.
Athletes are finally partnering up with brands that they feel connected to, and whose cause or mission that they believe in. Simone Biles is the perfect example of an athlete using her platform to fight against injustice and have a voice that will resonate for years while creating change.
Her decision to leave Nike with other big names such as the Ogwumike sisters and Breanna Stewart did not come as much of a surprise since we live in an era of women empowerment. Their choices showed us authentic efforts which other brands have made to recognize their value and help them fulfil their full potential.
Simone Biles, arguably the greatest gymnast of all time, made a shocking decision to leave Nike to join GAP's Athleta due to them being more aligned with her vision and values. She substantiated the decision by saying, "I felt like it wasn't just about my achievements, it's what I stood for and how they were going to help me use my voice and also be a voice for females and kids. I feel like they also support me, not just as an athlete, but just as an individual outside of the gym and the change that I want to create, which is so refreshing," reports The Wall Street Journal.
Other athletes who followed Biles' path by leaving Nike for other female-focused brands have mentioned similar things despite not speaking of the brand directly.
Collin Quigley, a former Olympian, announced her move from Nike Lululemon by saying, "If I'm not going to be with Nike. I need to do something that's outside the box and something that is female-focused, something that's true to me, and my brand, and what I care about. That is more focused on me as a whole person and not just focused on performance, performance, performance," reports Yahoo Sports.
Nike also sparked controversy when it had an ugly split with decorated US track and field star Allyson Felix, as they wanted to pay her less post her pregnancy. Felix later signed with Athleta and launched Saysh, footwear for women by women.
Nike's refusal to separate women's sports and men's sports rather while marketing their athletes and products might cost them dearly in the future. Women have the most effect on consumer spending either by controlling the purchasing power or influencing it, making it imperative to market to them individually and more authentically.
Professor Cox sums up the future steps to be taken perfectly when she says, "For me, it's not about, Nike's bad, these other companies are good or women-owned companies are good, these other ones aren't. I'm interested in how can we improve the lived experience of athletes at every level? How can we make this a more equitable space for all? And so I think this is but one piece. This idea that these are the small little shifts and changes that can at least improve their careers, their lived experience, their legacy, that's something that we can all kind of root for," reports Yahoo Sports.


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