Nike is the most successful sportswear company in the world, it’s trademark ‘swoosh’ one of the world’s most recognised designs. However, as hard as it might be for us to imagine a world without Nike, it wasn’t always like this. How did the company get here?
1973 – Nike Signs Its First Athlete To an Endorsement Deal
Steve Prefontaine, or ‘Pre’ as he came to be known, was an athletic prodigy who had set his first national record in running at the age of 15. The company signed Pre for track endorsement for $5,000 in 1974, which wasn’t a challenge since he’d been a prized pupil of the company’s co-founder Bill Bowerman. With his dedication to improving athletes’ condition, anti-establishment attitude and dazzling talent, Pre helped establish Nike’s reputation, undimmed by his tragically early death in a car accident at the age of 24.
The 1970s – Nike Gets America Jogging
Hard to believe as it may be now, there was a time jogging wasn’t a thing. That it has become such a massive pastime is due in large part to the efforts of one man – Bill Bowerman. He would help fuel the 70s jogging boom – and Nike’s success – by writing such books as Jogging.
1985 – The Air Jordan
The most famous brand endorsement by an athlete ever has to be Michael Jordan’s of the Air Jordan. Each time he wore a pair on the court, he was $5,000 by the NBA, because their funky colour scheme disrupted by the uniform colour scheme. Nike were only too happy to reimburse Jordan – the publicity was priceless…
1988 – Spike Lee in Air Jordans
Only to be surpassed when Nike teamed with Spike (Lee, that is) and Jordan, for one of the most famous runs of commercials ever. Lee directed and revived his hyperactive Brooklyn character Moses Blackman from his film She’s Gotta Have It for a goofy take on basketball, with Jordan playing straight man. This was a new way to sell sportswear, and one that worked in spades.
1996 – “I Am Tiger Woods”
If Spike Lee is known for the outspoken politics of his films and public appearances, he played them down for his ads. Nike themselves would go political with their “I Am Tiger Woods”, where an African American boy, followed by boys and girls of different nations and ethnicities declare that they are the legendary Afro American golfer. An ad targeting both aspiration and standing against sexism and racism? Mission accomplished, on both counts.
2002 – Nelly Loves Air Force Ones
By 2002 the Nike Air Force One had become one of the most iconic retro training shoes in the history of footwear. Midwest rapper Nelly dropped his tribute to the shoe in 2002 with his crew the St Lunatics, demanding to be given two pairs – the track was a massive Billboard hit. And Nike hadn’t sponsored him – Nelly genuinely loved his Air Force Ones.
2012 – The NFL
In 2012, Nike won the contract to become the NFL’s official on-field supplier of uniforms, sideline apparel and practice wear. This was such a success that they went on to become the official apparel supplier of the NBA in 2107, another step on their way to becoming the most successful sportswear company in the world.