When Nike’s new advertising campaign featuring former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was unveiled last week, the reaction around the country was immediate.
Fans and loyal customers of the world’s largest athletic apparel company posted videos of themselves burning shoes and cutting the Nike swish off clothes in protest. There were calls for a boycott, and the company’s stock plummeted, losing $3 billion in value.
There were supporters of the ad as well, including sports celebrities LeBron James and Tiger Woods.
"I think Nike is trying to get out ahead of it and trying to do something special and I think they've done that,” Woods said on the Golf Channel.
Nike is the largest athletic apparel company in the world, selling more than $32 billion worth of shoes, shirts and yoga pants in 2017. Nike's stock rebounded later in the week and regained two percent by Friday. For the year, Nike's stock is up more than 29 percent over last year.
By featuring Kaepernick, who has not played for an NFL team in two seasons and was the first player in the league to kneel during the national anthem to protest social injustice in the U.S., Nike knew it would create plenty of buzz about sports, politics and social consciousness.
College of the Ozarks, a small, private Christian college in Missouri with about 1,400 undergraduates, has dropped Nike as the school’s athletic apparel provider.
“College of the Ozarks plans to remove all athletic uniforms purchased from Nike or that contain the Nike emblem. Student athletes will no longer wear the brand in response to the company's new ad campaign," the school’s president, Jerry C. Davis. said in a prepared statement. “The university has stated its views regarding patriotism, the American flag, and the national anthem.”
Liberty University also is considering its options. Liberty is under contract with Nike through 2024.
Jerry Falwell, the school's president, told USA Today that the college might reconsider its relationship with Nike.
"If the company really believes what Colin Kaepernick believes, it’s going to be hard for us to continue to keep doing business with them," Falwell said.
“But if it’s just a publicity stunt to bring attention to Nike or whatever, that’s different. We understand that. We understand how marketing works. But they’re going to have to convince us that they’re not proactively attacking law enforcement officers and our military. If that’s the reason behind using this ad, we’re going to have a hard time staying.”
Clemson signed a 10-year, $58 million deal with Nike in August that will keep the Tigers wearing the swoosh logo until 2028.
When asked about the controversy during a press conference last week, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said, “this is the only logo I care about,” pointing to the tiger paw logo on his shirt.
Furman, which is the only other Nike college in South Carolina, has no plans to stop wearing the company’s apparel. The Paladins’ deal with Nike extends for three more years.
“There’s no plan to drop Nike because of the Kaepernick ad,” Furman athletic director Mike Buddie said. “Schools like Furman need every advantage they can get. To break a contract like that with no legal precedent would not be in our best interest. There’s nothing in our contract that gives us the right to make decisions on what Nike’s national advertising platform is going to be, nor should there be.”
Buddie said he doesn’t think continuing to wear Nike gear will alienate Paladin fans.
“I think most of our fanbase realize that our student-athletes are wearing Nike because they are made for comfort and function,” Buddie said. “I don’t think most of our fanbase care a lot about the political message behind it.”
Nine SEC teams — Florida, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana State, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee and Vanderbilt — are under contract with Nike, with Missouri's deal set to expire first in 2019.
South Carolina signed a 10-year, $71.5 million contract with Under Armour in 2016. That deal includes $44.5 million in product allowance, plus a $2 million signing bonus, in 2016.
Coastal Carolina and College of Charleston are Under Armour schools, while The Citadel has a contract with Adidas.
Three Lowcountry high schools — Summerville, Ashley Ridge and Cane Bay — outfit their teams in Nike apparel. None are planning to switch to a different company in the near future.
“I’m not crazy about the way the whole thing went down with Kaepernick. I’m kind of puzzled by what Nike is doing, but they are all about marketing,” said Cane Bay head football coach Russell Zehr. “I don’t know that it will affect our decision to continue to use their jerseys. The reason we wear Nike is because our B-team has had the same jerseys for the past 10 years. That’s how long they’ve lasted.”
Not every athletic team wears Nike uniforms at Cane Bay. Football players are not required to wear Nike shoes, but all cleats must be the same color. Nike does offer a discount to Cane Bay football players.
All the athletes at the varsity level at Summerville High School are required to wear the Nike brand. Like Cane Bay, Summerville athletes receive discounts for buying Nike products and the coaches are given company apparel to wear during games.
“I don’t think we’ll change companies because of what Nike is doing in their ad campaign,” said Summerville coach Joe Call. “Honestly, I haven’t heard any of our players talk about it. I don’t think it’ll get down to the high school level. I can see it having an impact in the NFL and at some of the bigger universities.”