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Nike vs. NFL vs. Kaepernick

Brian Buck
© Scotwork NA

Are you ready for a powerhouse negotiation? We’re about to see one play out between Nike, the NFL, and Colin Kaepernick. The NFL is currently arbitrating a collusion grievance from Colin Kaepernick in which he claims NFL owners have colluded not to hire him. Nike just made Kaepernick the centerpiece of their 30-anniversary ad campaign, “Just Do It” celebrating his social activism and its Kaepernick’s social activism that has contributed to a PR nightmare for the NFL. All on the heels of the NFL and Nike signing an 8-year sponsorship extension through 2028. Did Nike, “Just do it”? What do you do if your partner becomes your antagonist?

Whether the NFL likes it or not, Nike has done what it’s done. It goes without say that sponsoring the NFL is a big deal for both the NFL and Nike. Nike is the only brand that players will wear on the field till 2028. That’s valuable advertising and a high dollar sponsor. As such, the assumption would be that the NFL and Nike would have aligned interest in seeing the NFL succeed and drive viewership. However, Kaepernick has become the poster child for why the NFL has lost so much viewership over the last couple of years. Therefore, Nike is seemingly fanning the flames of the issues that plague the NFL.

I can only imagine that around the boardroom of the NFL many executives are complaining about what Nike has done. As a negotiator, I would be looking at this as an opportunity. Whenever there is an external disruption, there is an opportunity to negotiate. The natural reaction when something happens to you that you don’t like is to complain, however just complaining rarely gets you what you want.

Assuming the NFL is feeling aggrieved, I would advise the NFL to use this grievance as an opportunity to renegotiate its sponsorship deal with Nike. Maybe there’s an opportunity to shorten the deal, get more money, invite other sponsors, etc. Regardless, the status quo has changed and it means there’s an opening to change the terms.

There’s another angle to consider here as well. What if Nike did this because the were not happy with its deal with the NFL? Maybe it was an arduous negotiation. Maybe the NFL was the overbearing buyer the entire time and the sponsorship agreement didn’t go according to plan for Nike and they are not happy with the deal. What could they do? As a negotiator, you would want to look for a way to alter the status quo and create a reason to revisit the deal. You’d either look for an incentive to entice the other party to negotiate with you or a sanction or penalty that the other party wants to avoid in order to get them to the table.

In this case, it’s entirely possible that Nike is using Kaepernick to create a sanction against the NFL to get the NFL back to the table to renegotiate its deal. Maybe Nike will use this to get out of their deal or to change the terms or to bring balance to an arduous negotiation. All of that is speculation, but wouldn’t that be something if that were the case?

In the end, if you don’t like the situation you are in, change it. Don’t just complain, alter the status quo. Or to play on Nike’s tagline, “Just Negotiate”.


Just Negotiate

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