Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Iman Shumpert of the NY Knicks also tore his ACL in Adidas shoes.

    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.

  3. 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?

Image credit to adidas Italy and audiovisualjunkie.


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  1. Jay

    1. Ricky Rubio tore his ACL mid season…. wearing Nikes.
    2. Shumpert tore his ACL at the end of the season…. wearing Nikes.
    3. Greg Oden wore Nikes through his five year NBA career… wearing Nikes.

    ’nuff said.

    • Ryan

      in addition… Ricky Rubio got hurt by Kobe who wore Nikes… and used to wear Adidas

    • albert

      shumpert never wore nikes.

  2. Jay

    Whoops… my bad about Shumpert. But still. GREG ODEN.

    • Jeff Porretto

      Oh, I know this. And you know this. But the general public? Those didn’t get blown out of proportion like this one. As I said, I don’t like it, but Nike struck while the iron was hot.

      Also, Rubio got HIT on the knee (vs non-contact injuries for Rose and Shumpert). And I’m pretty sure Greg Oden ages is dog years…

  3. Jay

    And Petrie should have been fired immediately. Apparently Nike failed to realize that it wasn’t Prefontaine that made their brand what it is today. The City of Chicago MADE Nike… and the fact that he got slapped on the wrist (you didn’t even mention his other tweets) shows the lack of respect that this brand has for the town that made it what it is today. Had Nike not signed Jordan, Phil Knight might still be making running shoes with waffle irons in his garage.

    I went through an Adidas phase, and I think I’m most likely going to go back to that. Every hypebeast and sneaker gnoob is messing it up for everyone else right now anyway and the quality of Nike has gone downhill, especially for JB retros.

  4. Amy Swanson

    I can’t believe someone would tweet that!! Talk about kicking someone when they’re down. As a potential customer that just turns me off from their brand. Competition is fine and dandy, but it can go too far- and it did.

    As for your question about preferring Nike or Adidas, I’ve never owned any Nike’s only Adidas’, however the last pair I had was in middle school. I’m more of a New Balance sorta girl myself 😉

    A very interesting post, Jeff. Thanks for giving a recap of the situation!!

    • Jeff Porretto

      OK fellow “marketing nerd,” Let’s say Dunkin’ Donuts has an employee (not even a “higher-up”) tweeting something making fun of a person who burned themselves with McDonald’s coffee. Are you mad at the company, or the individual? I’d choose the individual, but many would choose the company.

      I don’t know any spiffy marketing phrases for these consumer reactions, but there has to be one, right? =]

      Thanks Amy!

  5. Jaimie Smith

    Jeff talking about SPORTS? Who would have thought that?

    This is just rediculous though. I agree with your last statement. They did get their message out, but doing it at the cost of amazing athletes is what makes it wrong and makes their company look like @$$holes!
    I agree with Jay’s comment, that he should have been fired and that Chicago MADE Nike.
    I guess I really am not one to talk considering I do not know a TON about sports. But I am a fan, and I do know some about it, and I still think this was just rediculous!

    Great Job on writing this post, Jeff! You rocked it!!

    • Jeff Porretto

      Honestly, I think Nike saw the tweet and went, “We have to fire this guy! Well…. wait. Let’s see how this plays out.” Like everything else, people will move on to something else to be angry about. The gut reaction is almost always to FIRE someone, or to BOYCOTT a company. But those sentiments never seem to last…

  6. Alex Brodsky

    I stick by my “Any publicity is good publicity” stance.

    Sure, this designer angered a fan base, but he also won over a different fan base. The story should be about Jason Petrie and his insensitive comment, but the story has become Nike vs. Adidas. And in this day and age, people have short term memories. That means in the Nike vs. Adidas fight, Nike is blowing them out of the water (it doesn’t help that Adidas hasn’t come out and defended themselves).

    I won’t give a second thought, though, to the notion that this tweet was a planned release from Nike. Nike obviously has a great spin control team, but this was one man. Twitter has given everyone a voice. The problem is that people are idiots and not everyone should be allowed to talk.

  7. Mandy Kilinskis

    As Alex mentioned, the dark side of social media is that everyone has a voice and can say whatever they want.

    But on the good side (for Nike and Petrie) is that something else will happen in a few days and everyone but the hardcore fans will tweet about that and forget that this spat even happened.

  8. Jen

    I think the tweet was mean spirited, but it’s Twitter, and everybody is entitled to their opinion. Should he have been fired over it, no. I think it was a bit too soon though, and maybe Petrie should have saved his comments for a couple weeks.

    I don’t feel any different about Nike now though, other than they hired an idiot shoe designer (but like Jeff said, every company has at least one).

    Nice post Jeff, it’s very current and trendy- just like you 🙂

  9. Jill Tooley

    I think I have a new celebrity crush… 😉 I hope he has a speedy recovery!

    Petrie’s tweet was 100% in poor taste. He should have taken the high road and tweeted well wishes or a supportive statement, without dragging stupid shoes into the issue. Honestly, players could get hurt in any type of sneaker, so I doubt that has a lot to do with it. This animosity is just silly and it makes everyone look like asses. But I suppose that happens in marketing!

    Or, as my parents always told me…if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.

  10. Kelly

    I’d be completely onboard the “Adidas is dangerous to your leg” nonsense if Nike’s list of victims didnt make me squirm worse.

    Lets take a TINY sampling of Nike victims with either crap legs or have suffered Torn ACLs/equally horrific leg injuries

    Brandon Roy
    Greg Oden
    Andrew Bynum

    now lets just PRETEND we need to even look past those three names before were completely disgusted in Nikes, but here a few more names

    Adrian Peterson
    David West
    Amar’e Stoudemire
    Chris Paul
    Rajon Rondo
    Ricky Rubio (Rubio signed with adidas only AFTER his torn acl)
    Michael Redd
    Blake Griffin
    Michael Jordan (remember that broken foot? Neither do I, but it happened.)
    Pau Gasol
    Chase Budinger
    Steph Curry
    Zaza Pachulia
    Anderson Verejao
    Danny Granger
    Andrew Bogut
    Dexter Strickland
    Lou Williams
    Mariano Rivera
    Tom Brady
    Kyle Lowry

    and this is just a small sample of sever injuries to players wearing Nikes.

    So lets all just stop this ignorant notion that wearing Adidas is a leg injury waiting to happen. Just off the top of my head I can name far more Nike athlete injuries than I can Adidas.

    Saying that wearing any particular shoe brand can ruin your legs is just an ignorant and moronic statement. Other than rolled or sprained ankles, I really can’t think of any severe injuries that particular brand shoes would cause. Athlete injuries happen because they put there bodies through tremendous stress and trauma and sometimes their bodies just collapse under it, not because of any shoe they wear. It’s as simple as that.

    • Aaron

      So many more players wear Nikes compared to Adidas. If you look at the percentages of players that wear Nikes and suffer severe injuries vs. Adidas, I’m sure Adidas will have a higher percent.

  11. Carl

    I tore my ACL wearing adidas. Will never buy adidas shoes again.

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