Nike, Adidas, and Torn ACLs: When Healthy Brand Competition Turns Bitter
April 28th, 2012. The collective heart of Chicago sports fans were crushed when the Bulls’ Derrick Rose tore his ACL in Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs. I was there. There’s nothing quite like 20,000+ people sitting in silence. It was nothing short of devastating.
Still reeling from this incident a few hours later, an insult to Rose’s injury ensued in the form of a tweet:
You may need a little context here. That tweet originated from Jason Petrie, LeBron James’ Nike shoe designer (and “Pooh” is Derrick Rose’s nickname from close friends and family). Rose signed a ridiculously lucrative contract with Nike’s rival — Adidas — a few months prior to his injury. After he tore his ACL, this Nike designer saw a chance to show how classy he is and kick a man while he was down. Not surprisingly, he was blasted on all corners of the internet, and rightfully so. Petrie and Nike both issued reticent apologies, and the world moved on despite some lingering anger.
But I’d like play devil’s advocate on this one.
I’ll preface my argument by saying I believe Jason Petrie’s tweets (and subsequent tweets) were crass, that they have no place in sports or business, and also that they crossed the line. Healthy competition is good. Taking it too far is not. There was absolutely NO need to call out a competitor’s injured athlete. No one likes the person who mocks someone at their most vulnerable time (making enemies is never a good thing).
However, I don’t think Nike was as upset with Jason Petrie as they’d have you believe. Here’s why:
- Fans’ overwhelming initial reaction was: “I’ll never buy Nike again!” When someone spouts off at the mouth (or keyboard), why should we hold it against the company as a whole? Doesn’t EVERY large company have a few idiots working for it? Surely I shouldn’t be mad at a company of thousands because one guy said something I don’t like, right? Nike will steer clear of this mess and all the disdain will be focused on one person: Petrie.
Iman Shumpert of the NY Knicks also tore his ACL in Adidas shoes.
Execution notwithstanding, surely Nike HAS to be pleased with how a nation focused on the fact that two players blew out their knees in one afternoon wearing their competitor’s shoes (Iman Shumpert of the New York Knicks tore his ACL on the same day as Derrick Rose, and he was also wearing Adidas shoes). Was this a calculated marketing move? For the record, I doubt it. But after the hoopla dies down, it is possible that all consumers will be left with is the opinion that Adidas basketball shoes are ACL tears waiting to happen.
- There may be some truth to Jason Petrie’s statement. I’ve tried on the shoes these injured players were wearing, and the lack of cushioning is startling. Adidas claims they’re more responsive that way. Now, I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know if that contributes to any injuries, but I consider myself a rational consumer and these events have me a little scared to ever play in Adidas. The mere suggestion of a correlation between injury and Adidas is going to give people the same concerns I had when trying them on.
So in the end, somehow, I think that Petrie’s blunder actually works out for Nike. The message got out. It’s just a shame it had to happen at the cost of two world class athletes’ knees, and rubbing some salt in the wounds of the fans. I don’t like it, but that’s the dark side of business and marketing.
What’s your take on Jason Petrie’s tweets? Do you prefer Nike to Adidas? Will this incident make you think twice about purchasing Adidas shoes?