People Are Furious with Nike — but It Probably Doesn't Matter in the Long Run
A retail analyst explains how the boycott will impact the brand.
On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Nike decided to pull Air Max 1 Quick Strike sneakers from shelves ahead of their planned July 4 release after former NFL player Colin Kaepernick privately raised concerns that the Betsy Ross flag featured prominently on the heel had ties to racism.
The company subsequently said in a statement that the decision was "based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and distract from the nation's patriotic holiday."
Among Kaepernick's chief concerns, according to the New York Times, was that the flag had been adopted by hate groups. Seen in hindsight by some as a symbol of the era when slavery was ubiquitious in America, the Betsy Ross flag (which, according to the Library of Congress, likely wasn't even designed by Ross herself), has cropped up among modern Ku Klux Klan imagery.
Soon after the brand's decision became public, conservative politicians and talking heads — from Ted Cruz to Tomi Lahren to Laura Ingraham – denounced the company (Cruz said that Nike only wants to serve "people who hate the American flag") and called for their followers to boycott. Not to be out outraged, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey took things a step further, tweeting that he would be calling upon the Arizona Commerce Authority to rescind the financial incentive dollars that had been promised to Nike for a factory being planned in Goodyear, Ariz. The deal may have been worth up to $1 million, according to the Times.
The entire debacale, while dramatic, is actually much less aggressive than a boycott of a similar nature that occurred last year after Kaepernick's debut ad and ambassadorship with the brand was revealed. Even Donald Trump chimed in to drag the company, though Donald's decision to publicly to chide anyone, even a company, isn't exactly newsworthy at this point in his presidency. Though there was plenty of praise for both the Beaverton, Oreg.-based brand as well as the century's most controversial NFL star, there were also plenthy of people setting their Nike sneakers on fire in response and posting the images on social media.
Matt Powell, senior sports industry advisor at NPD tells InStyle that like last year's boycott, this movement is more of a viral hashtag moment than a true economic threat. "[The] boycotters are not Nike’s core demographic," he said. "Likely, the boycotters weren’t even Nike’s customers." Though Cruz, a self-proclaimed owner of "lots" of Nike products, would like the public to believe otherwise, Powell says the company's reputation will continue "growing with its core customers." In the weeks after last year's boycott, Nike shares spiked.
As for Ducey's impact? Powell says it's really more a problem for Arizona. "There will be plenty of states lining up for the Nike factory," he said, calling the move an "empty gesutre."
News of the controversial sneaker was just one of Nike's major headlines today. Competing for attention was the fact that the women's national soccer team jerseys broke sales records, becoming the brand's highest selling jerseys to date (and they do a lot of jerseys). Serena Williams also advanced to the second stage at Wimbledon in a custom white minidress with a bespoke "broosh" (a brooch swoosh), with crystal embellishment. Taken together, it sounds like Nike will be OK.