SBD/February 15, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

Is Nike Doing Its Due Diligence Before Signing Athletes To Stable Of Endorsements?

Pistorius is the latest Nike endorser under fire for his conduct
Nike endorser Oscar Pistorius' arrest for alledgedly murdering his girlfriend "isn't the first time some member of the company's stable of galactic star sports figures has been a target of serious allegations,” but can Nike's strategy of putting money behind inspirational stories “succeed indefinitely as the company veers from one catastrophe to the next,” wonders Matthew Futterman of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Nike-sponsored athletes previously under fire include Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Michael Vick and Marion Jones, as well as late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. Yet the company through it all “has stayed a course centered on inspiration rather than product.” Pistorius, “after all, doesn't even wear shoes.” In the past it has been noted that “when a Nike athlete falls to earth, the company's fortunes continue to soar.” As major stars are “unmasked, there is a growing sense that the practice of mythmaking may have to stop.” There is a perception that Nike “has somehow changed the rules of athletic success in a crass or craven way,” and some “accuse the company of commoditizing fame.” An element about Nike that “rarely gets acknowledged is that it doesn't sell shoes, or even athletes, as much as it buys and sells stories, narratives, fairy tales.” They “aren't a shoe company as much as a giant abstraction -- a condition of the aspirational mind.” Nike “doesn't make racing bikes,” but it signed Armstrong “because he had survived cancer and come back to win the most grueling race in the world.” Pistorius “fits perfectly into Nike's view of the world: That the most powerful thing one can sell isn't comfortable, stylish performance sportswear, it's the concept of possibility” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/15).

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN: The GLOBE & MAIL’s Bruce Dowbiggin writes these are “hard times for heroes and the people who promote or sponsor them.” In this “media-saturated age, where values sell products, sponsors and charities fall especially hard for athletes such as Pistorius or Armstrong.” Their “virtuous back stories give sponsors the halo effect in addition to marketing push.” Pistorius was one of the “great legends of the 2012 London Olympics, seemingly running against the odds on his blade-like feet.” His sponsors “took it from there, giving him the Lance Armstrong treatment.” But Dowbiggin wonders, “Did Pistorius’s Teflon effect cause the sponsors to miss signs? A cursory look behind the scenes should have raised flags about Pistorius” (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/15). ESPN’s Pablo Torre said the Pistorius story "continues the most brutal stretch of idol-smashing in sports that we’ve ever seen probably in history." Torre: "You start with Joe Paterno, you go to Lance Armstrong to Manti Te’o to now Oscar Pistorius” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 2/14).
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