SHAQ Wants to Acquire Reebok, Leverage Own Brand to “Bring Them Back”

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Business Insider’s report that Meek Mill is set to “become a co-owner of Lids” (he’ll also head up creative strategy for the company) is the latest example of an athlete or entertainer looking to leverage their brand in an entrepreneurial capacity. The news comes less than a week after Shaquille O’Neal – who has managed to build his own “sprawling business empire” on the back of a likable, bigger than life personality – proclaimed that he “would love to purchase Reebok”; saying the company has been “diluted so much [under Adidas’ ownership] that it’s almost gone [from the consumer consciousness]” and that he could “bring them back to basketball and fitness [relevance].” O’Neal recalls that time fondly. His history with the brand goes all the way back to ’92 (amid their early 90s heyday), when they signed him to a $15 million rookie shoe deal.

Howie Long-Short: Reebok is perceived to be a dying label because their classic styles (40% of ’18 sales) are outselling today’s performance models (sales within that category actually declined in ’18). Rumors that Adidas had been looking to divest themselves of the brand, a -3% YoY revenue decline in FY18 and the recent news that Dick’s Sporting Goods is ending its licensing deal with company have only fed the narrative. But Adidas AG CEO Kasper Rosted is optimistic about its future. 2018 revenues declined because the company was closing stores that were underperforming (and it had allowed various licensing deals to expire), costs are down and there is a hope that “new footwear lines like the Crossfit Nano and Floatride Run will spur [an increase in] sales.”

David Simmons, founder of DESBall Ventures, explained that the influx of new entrants into the footwear and apparel space has resulted in “sportswear companies really becoming streetwear companieslifestyle brands that happen to make sneakers. That transition means there is brand equity in the Reebok name and with the right endorsers and business partners (company recently named Beyoncé creative director) it could make a comeback; no different than what Puma has done with Rihanna or New Balance with Kawhi.”

Reebok is “a legacy brand with market share, real-estate and household name recognition”, so it remains valuable. While the retail sector remains out of favor and the company is not currently turning a profit, Simmons says that the company could easily follow Nordstrom’s strategy – “selling off-price products at the outlets, introducing a few pop-up shops for new releases and doing everything else online” – and generate the returns that would make a private equity investor happy. The brand’s “path to profitability” (Rosted said in ’18 that the company would be profitable before 2020) also makes it attractive from an investor standpoint. That’s noteworthy because while SHAQ has made a lot of money in his lifetime (in ’16 Forbes pegged his net worth at $400 million), he’s not going to take down Reebok alone; Adidas paid $3.8 billion for the company back in ’05. It’s worth noting that SHAQ doesn’t even own namesake (think: merchandise, endorsements) – he sold them to Authentic Brands Group in 2016 (financial terms were not disclosed, he took stake in ABG as part of the deal). If O’Neal is going to leverage his own brand to turn Reebok around, he’s going to need ABG’s participation.

Fan Marino: It’s reasonable to believe that if an O’Neal led consortium were to acquire Reebok it would license the label back to Adidas or another manufacturer (think: ABG, Sports Illustrated’s publishing arm and The Maven); it’s highly unlikely the financier will have an expertise in footwear production. As Simmons (who worked in shoe sales at Saks Fifth Avenue prior to entering VC) noted “Reebok has commitments and contracts to fill and as you saw with Big Baller Brand, it’s difficult to build a sneaker company from scratch. It’s relatively inexpensive to build a shoe, but it’s very expensive to sell it and P.E. groups (and ABG) excel at building businesses and monetizing brands. It would be a really good match for a company that has underperformed for some time.”

Editor Note: Simmons is hosting the Gila Summit in Los Angeles on 7.10.19. All proceeds will go towards supporting research for Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia (HHT), also known as Osler-Weber-Rendu Syndrome.

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Adidas Signs Beyoncé as “Creative Partner” with Women’s Footwear, Activewear Markets Growing

Beyonce

Beyoncé Knowles has signed a long-term deal to serve as a “creative partner” to Adidas. The star singer will collaborate with the brand on “new signature footwear and apparel” across both the performance and consumer lifestyle categories. The multi-layer partnership will also see Adidas help Knowles relaunch her Ivy Park athleisure brand. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Howie Long-Short: NPD Group’s Matt Powell wrote last July that the “paid endorser model is simply broken”; that the U.S. consumer had wised up to the pay-to-wear sponsorship model, realizing that celebrities/athletes “will endorse whatever they are paid to wear.” So, high-profile partnerships, like this one, should always be looked at with a sense of skepticism on the brand side. Beyoncé will have a larger role though than just endorsing Adidas; she’ll be involved in the creative process. That should help in projecting authenticity, which will enable the brand to better connect with its consumer, but it is no guarantee of success. Remember, the “Kanye effect” was a myth until a recent increase in distribution “led to unexpected gains” for ADDYY.

Back in September ‘18, we noted that sneaker/apparel brands were failing to earn returns on their investments in American athletes (note: there wasn’t a single performance shoe or signature sneaker in the Top 10 sold in ’18), so it makes sense that those companies are looking for influencers outside of sports. To date, most of these deals have managed to generate buzz, but few have found commercial success – at least in part because the collaborations are typically limited to artificially create demand (see: Kanye Effect). There is precedent for success, though. Rihanna joined Puma (in ’14, she’s since left) as a creative director and global ambassador to the brand and was able to almost immediately contribute to its top line growth.

Without the numbers, it’s impossible to gauge if Beyoncé will ever be able to sell enough shoes/merchandise to make the math work, but Adidas was wise to align with the female artist. Women have been historically underserved by sports brands, so there’s a tremendous opportunity in the marketplace relative to the men’s side; significant revenue growth is anticipated within both the female footwear (CAGR of 4.2% through ‘27) and the female activewear markets (CAGR of 7.7% through ’25) over the next half decade. The rise of the health-conscious, sports and fitness enthusiast is driving sales.

As for Knowles, it truly is “a partnership of a lifetime.” She likely landed a massive pay day and the Adidas marketing machine will expand her athleisure business “on a truly global scale”, while she gets to retain sole ownership of the company (she bought out TopShop in ’18). There’s no downside for her.

Fan Marino: ESPN’s Nick DePaula recently said on an episode of “The Jump” that Beyoncé had been in talks with Reebok about a similar partnership, but the company’s lack of diversity drove her to end conversations; Reebok has denied those claims. Under Armour and Jordan Brand also reportedly had interest in the singer.

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Federal Anti-Trust Lawsuit Holding Up Change in College Basketball

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Former Adidas executive James Gatto, Adidas consultant Merl Code Jr. and runner Christian Dawkins were convicted on federal wire fraud (and conspiracy to commit wire fraud charges) and assistant coaches from Arizona, Oklahoma State and USC have each accepted plea deals for their roles in bribery and kickback schemes – but other than The Commission on College Basketball’s issuance of “recommendations” to clean up the game, little else has been done to put a halt to the unseemly underworld of college basketball recruiting in the 17 months since their arrests. Whispers of corruption continue to run rampant throughout the sport.

There are a couple of valid reasons for the delayed response to eliminating the unscrupulous behavior. For starters, the independent commission remains unwilling to implement change until the underlying accusations work their way through the criminal justice system (Chuck Person’s trial will start in June). They’re also awaiting a decision on a lawsuit (Grant-In-Aid, trial concluded in Dec.) that will determine if the NCAA has been in violation of federal antitrust laws, by limiting the amount in which colleges can pay athletes (currently cost of attendance). Ramsey Chamie, a sports lawyer and adjunct professor at the NYU Tisch Institute for Global Sport, also noted that the NCAA is in “no rush to kick the hornet’s nest. March Madness remains enormously popular, the arrests did not negatively impact fan interest or ad revenue, and it doesn’t hurt to have bad actors brought into the light and to give off the perception that the game is being cleaned up a bit.” 

Howie Long-Short: The various investigations should ultimately lead to the elimination of some under-the-table dealing, but don’t expect college basketball to suddenly become a collective of choir boys. As Ramsey reminded me, the NCAA “is a billion-dollar enterprise and they don’t have to pay the athletes. They’ll do the recommendations. They’ll set up independent bodies to monitor the athlete/agent relationship and work to better out corruption – but there’s no real incentive to do more than that right now. It’s a matter of what the corporate entity can do, versus what it must do [in the case of the anti-trust lawsuit].

The FBI’s case against Gatto, Code and Dawkins was based on the premise that by conspiring to pay high school prospects, they had defrauded the Universities issuing valuable athletic scholarships; accepting money would have rendered the players ineligible by the NCAA. Yes, the FBI claims that it was the schools who were harmed in the bribing of elite prospects to play for their programs (insert eye-roll here). The high-profile case will end on March 5th when the 3 defendants are sentenced to between 2-5 years in prison. Lamont Evans (Oklahoma State), Tony Bland (USC) and Book Richardson (Arizona) all plead guilty to taking money to steer players to agents. The triumvirate will face sentences of up to 5, 1 and 2 years in prison, respectively.

For the sake of this conversation, we’re going to assume that the court rules amateurism is a valid defense for the NCAA to restrict player compensation. Under that scenario, Ramsey believes “allowing athletes to pursue compensation for their name, image and likeness” would be among the first Rice Commission suggestions to be implemented and the one most likely to help clean up collegiate sports. “If the players can make a few dollars, then the under the table money becomes less of an incentive. I think you’ll also see NBA and NBPA eliminate the one and done requirement.” Of course, none of that is imminent. Chuck Person (Auburn) first heads to trial on bribery charges in June and the Grant-In-Aid lawsuit is sure to be appealed.

Fan Marino: Code, who spent 14 years at Nike prior to joining Adidas, is on tape telling federal investigators that Nike schools [Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Kentucky] pay too.” That would seem obvious considering Adidas wasn’t bidding against themselves, but that doesn’t mean fans of those programs should be worried about getting wrapped up in a federal (or NCAA) investigation. As Ramsey said, I suppose there is a chance those programs could be ensnared, but the New York District Attorney is not a specialized agency designed to govern the NCAA – the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices are our enforcement bodies for federal criminal laws. The feds have certainly made their point. So, while it could happen, I don’t think anyone is waiting for the next batch of indictments to drop.” As for additional NCAA investigations, Ramsey said, “I would be surprised if the NCAA goes after the programs that you mentioned, they’re the biggest college basketball programs and it’s a member organization after all.”

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Real Madrid Inks Most Lucrative Kit Sponsorship Pact in Soccer History

Real-Madrid-logo

Real Madrid has agreed a 10-year deal with Adidas worth at least $1.25 billion, the most lucrative kit manufacturing pact in soccer history (previously: Manchester United/Adidas worth $97 million/year). The deal’s value, worth more than twice the $59 million/year Los Blancos currently earns from its kit sponsorship agreement (also with Adidas), could rise to as much as $171 million (from $125 million) annually should Adidas reach merchandising and performance milestones. The newfound revenue will be used to help fund the redevelopment (cost: $650 million) of Santiago Bernabeu stadium (their home field) and to sign top-tier talent; the club has been relatively quiet in recent transfer windows.

Howie Long-Short: While Real Madrid re-signed with Adidas (been with company since ’98), the German apparel company wasn’t bidding against themselves; Nike and Under Armour were also interested in outfitting the La Liga club.

For perspective on the deal’s size, consider that Nike is paying the same amount ($1 billion over 8 years) annually to outfit (game jersey, shorts & socks) all 30 NBA franchises. If you’re wondering who signed the better deal (Nike or Adidas), consider that the NBA boasts of more followers/fans (1.5 billion to 689 million) across social media platforms and delivers the greatest “commercial impact” (according to the POWA Index) of any brand in sports.

Fan Marino: Speaking of the NBA, Monumental Sports & Entertainment announced a multi-year jersey patch sponsorship agreement with Geico that will result in the insurance company’s logo occupying space on the Washington Wizards, Washington Mystics (WNBA) and Capital City Go-Go (G-League) game uniforms. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, though it’s known that the average patch sponsorship deal was worth $6.5 million to NBA teams in ’17-’18; the Warriors have the league’s most lucrative agreement (with Rakuten), worth $20 million/season. The Thunder and Pacers are the only NBA teams yet to take advantage of the newfound revenue stream.

MLS executives watched NBA teams bring in over $100 million in new corporate sponsorship revenue last season (from jersey patches) and decided they too should increase kit sponsorship inventory. Starting with the 2020 season, MLS clubs will have the ability to sign secondary sleeve sponsorship pacts (each team has a main partner, Houston is the exception); deals projected to be worth $1 million to $1.5 million annually. For those wondering, top-end MLS main kit sponsorship deals are worth $3-4 million/year, though it’s said D.C. United (who is replacing Leidos as its main kit sponsor at the end of this season) is looking to re-set the market; the club is reportedly seeking $5 million per/year, a figure that would place them atop the league (LA Galaxy is currently 1st, $4.4 million/year) in kit sponsorship revenue.

European soccer has a gambling advertising epidemic. 9 of 20 EPL clubs and 17 of 24 EFL Championship League teams have gaming companies as their main kit sponsor (sports betting ads also make up 95% of commercials during live matches in the U.K). MLS currently has restrictions on gambling partnerships, but they are said to be “under review by the league”. Gaming companies will certainly have interest in secondary kit sponsorships and they could bring MLS clubs much needed revenue, but here’s to hoping the league opts to avoid the low hanging fruit; a recent study indicated the U.K. has 430,000 “problem gamblers”, including 25,000 between the ages of 11-16. Incessant gambling advertising is contributing to (if not the root of) the problem.

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Louisville, Kansas and NC State Victims Ruled Victims in NCAA Basketball Corruption Trial

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Two former Adidas employees and a former sports marketing executive were found guilty of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the first of 3 separate NCAA basketball corruption-related trials (the others involve coaches steering players to programs in exchange for kickbacks). A Manhattan federal court determined on Wednesday that former Adidas head of global basketball marketing James Gatto, former Adidas consultant Merl Code Jr. and former sports Christian Dawkins had “deceived universities (Louisville, Kansas and NC State) into issuing scholarships under false pretenses (players would have been ineligible if they took money)”, by funneling Adidas money to elite prospects. Sentencing is scheduled for May 5th.

Howie Long-Short: The jury’s unanimous guilty verdict would be laughable, if the 3 men weren’t facing 2-4 years in jail for compensating H.S. basketball recruits. The schools referenced weren’t defrauded by the defendants, they were complicit in a conspiracy (see: allegations that Bill Self asked an Adidas employee to pay the guardian of Silvio de Sousa) that provided them with 5 star prospects.

The ruling is unlikely to impact the Adidas’ bottom line, few believe the defendants are guilty of anything besides violating NCAA bylaws

Adidas (ADDYY) issued Q2 earnings back on August 9th, reporting sales rose 10% YoY (to $6 billion) during the most recent quarter; North America (+16%), Greater China (+27%) and the e-commerce sector drove the growth. ADDYY’s has managed to grow the top line without resorting to discounts to sell shoes, reporting gross margins rose +2.2% (to 52.3%) in Q2 ‘18. Shares are up +6.5% (to $117.78) since the company reported. ADDYY will post Q3 financials on November 7th.

Fan Marino: There was so little coverage of Wednesday’s shocking verdict that it’s hard to believe the jury’s decision will impact college basketball’s black market. The financial incentives to sign top players remains (for both schools and sneaker companies) and the amateurism rules that prevent elite prospects from realizing their true value, still apply.

Earlier this week, we noted that the NBA was offering elite H.S. basketball prospects a new “professional path”; a six-figure payday (among other benefits) to forego collegiate basketball and play a single season in the G-League. While in theory the G-League’s new “professional path” offers players the opportunity to get paid (without anyone violating federal law), players projected to be selected in the top 24 picks of the NBA draft would be better off sitting out the season than taking a step up in competition; falling a single slot in the draft would cost the player more (over the first 2 years of their deal) than the $125,000 they’d receive for playing the entire season.

A federal court may have found Louisville, Kansas and NC State to have been defrauded, but that’s not a “get out of jail free” card if/when the NCAA comes knocking. Once the criminal investigations/trials are complete, the NCAA could pursue violations of their bylaws and all 3 programs involved in this case are guilty; defense attorneys acknowledged as much (while denying they had committed federal crimes), stating each school paid the families of high-profile players (Brian Bowen – Louisville, Billy Preston – Kansas, and Dennis Smith Jr – NC State).

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NBA Plans to Ban Yeezy Basketball Sneaker

Yeezy

The NBA intends on banning players from wearing Adidas’ Kanye West basketball sneaker during league games, over concerns surrounding the shoe’s design; the league believes the sneaker’s “gleaming, reflective material heel” would be distracting to fans both in the arena and to those watching at home. The 2018-2019 season will mark the first NBA season where players are not required to wear sneakers that match their team uniform, but 3M (the reflective material) remains on the leagues footwear color restriction list. Several Adidas endorsees had planned to wear the Yeezy basketball sneaker during the ’18-’19 season.

Howie Long-Short: The NBA’s decision to ban players from wearing Yeezy’s won’t impact sales, but Adidas’ decision to sell the label’s products in mass will. The company’s latest Kanye drop (a mass release of the Yeezy Boost 350 V2 “Triple White” on September 21st) “still has not sold out” and the “resale price is barely above MSRP” ($230 is lowest ask on Stock X). That’s not necessarily unexpected, celebrity collaborations historically fail with commercial releases (see: Jay-Z, 50-Cent, Pharrell Williams). As we wrote last week, the paid endorser model is broken in the U.S.

The reason West’s label has always been highly sought after is because its products “could be flipped for multiple times the initial price” (due to their limited availability), not because the consumer wanted to wear them. As Matt Powell, NPD Group retail analyst explained, “if the reason people are buying this shoe is to flip it, and now you can’t flip it, are you ever going to come back and buy another (pair)?” The answer is no, you’re not. That’s a problem for Adidas because as we’ve seen with Jordan Brand, “it’s a long process to build back that credibility.”

Adidas (ADDYY) issued Q2 earnings back on August 9th, reporting sales rose 10% YoY (to $6 billion) during the most recent quarter; North America (+16%), Greater China (+27%) and the e-commerce sector drove the growth. ADDYY’s has managed to grow the top line without resorting to discounts to sell shoes, reporting gross margins rose +2.2% (to 52.3%) in Q2 ‘18. Shares are up +11% (to $123.02) since the company reported.

Fan Marino: The league’s decision has nothing to do with Kanye’s bizarre SNL appearance last weekend. In fact, the league hadn’t even formally reviewed the sneaker as of Monday’s initial ESPN report; assumptions were made based on photos West posted of the sneaker on the Instagram. If Adidas were to redesign the shoe (removing the reflective material), it’s likely the league would approve the design and it’s possible NBA players could still wear them this season.

While possible Adidas basketball stars could wear Yeezy’s in an NBA game this season, it won’t happen before December. That’s because the league reviews new sneaker models 2x/year, once in August (for the start of the season) and again in December (for the balance).

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Paid Endorser Model “Broken” in U.S., Works in Asia

Osaka

Naomi Osaka, coming off the U.S. Open championship, will sign a contract extension with Adidas (ADDYY) worth $8.5 million/year at the completion of the season; the deal will be the largest the company has ever issued a female tennis star. Osaka’s half-Haitian, half-Japanese heritage, makes her particularly appealing to the western brand seeking to expand its reach in Asia. Interestingly, Osaka’s deal comes just 2 months after Uniqlo, another company “with plans for breakneck speed growth in Asia”, signed men’s tennis star Roger Federer (as a global ambassador) to a 10-year $300 million deal.

Howie Long-Short: NPD Group retail analyst Matt Powell recently said the “paid endorser model is broken”. He’s right, U.S. consumers have gotten smarter and they know “how phony these pay-to-wear (sponsorship) deals are”, which helps to explain how Under Armour could have Steph Curry, Tom Brady and Bryce Harper on the roster and still see their share price decline -60% (from $51+ to $20+) over the last 3 years (UAA shares are +39% YTD so that drop had been worse). Of course, the Osaka and Federer deals aren’t about the U.S. market and generally speaking the Asian consumer is more likely to be influenced by an athlete endorsing a product than the American consumer would be.

So, if sneaker/apparel brands are not earning a return on their investment in athletes, could the end of lucrative long-term (think: Harden. Adidas. 13 Years. $200 million.) sponsorship deals, for domestic stars, be far behind? According to Matt (and a couple of NBA agents), that reality is already here. Most NBA players receive just a “small fee and free product”, while NFL players are offered compensation packages “worse than your standard NBA deal.” One agent told hoops hype “there are probably five relevant superstars out there and while every is chasing deals there aren’t any deals out there to actually get.”

Fan Marino: Elite NBA players earn more money from endorsements than athletes from any other American professional sport. In 2018, the NBA’s 10 highest paid endorsees took in $234 million in off-court earnings, 2.6x ($90 million) the amount NFL’s 10 most marketable players generated; LeBron James ($52 million) alone will take in more than the Top 10 MLB ($25 million) and NHL ($20 million) endorsees combined.

On Friday, Sara Germano (WSJ) translated an investment research note stating, “there may also be potential upside in apparel, as recent NBA player moves to highly dense markets may have resulted in incremental sales” to “Wall Street for LeBron moved to LA.” LeBron is certainly going to sell a lot of jerseys in L.A. (he was #2 in the league last year) but don’t expect his Nike sneakers to fly off the shelves, performance basketball sneakers remain out of style in the U.S. and even Laker’s legend Kobe Bryant “never sold a lot of shoes in the U.S.”

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Nike Makes Wise Business Decision, Kaepernick Face of 30th Anniversary Ad Campaign

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Colin Kaepernick has extended his relationship with Nike (has been with company since ’11) and become the face of their new 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign. The campaign debuted on Monday with a simple message that read “believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything” over a picture of Colin’s face. Kaepernick, who has been portrayed as the leader of the NFL player protest movement, has been unsigned (by NFL teams) since the end of the 2016 season. While financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, it’s been reported that Kaepernick’s deal is worth “millions per year” + royalties, putting it on par with the contracts held by the NFL’s top players. The deal is expected to include a “Kaepernick 7” line of shoes and apparel.

Howie Long-Short: Nike made the decision to extend Colin and make him the face of this campaign anticipating backlash from the political right, but the company is wisely playing the long game here understanding any negative short-term noise will be far outweighed by future sales gains. Nike’s target client is America’s youth (18-29), not the 60-year-old racist white guy cutting swooshes off his socks, and Colin remains popular with the younger demographic; in fact, his jersey ranked as the 39th (as of Q2 ’17) best-seller among all NFL players despite his absence from an NFL roster. Sacrificing older, low discretionary-income red state buyers for younger, affluent, progressive buyers in blue states seems like a wise decision; even if most Wall Street analysts refuse to say so because they’re avoiding the divisive topic.

Sadly, Nike’s decision to sign Colin wasn’t about protesting racism or social injustice (though, the company would like the media to position it as such), but about the bottom line; as Twitter user @MichaelMirer so perfectly put it, “democratic socialists buy sneakers, too”. If the snark went over your head, Mirer is playing off Michael Jordan’s famous line when asked why he avoids discussions about politics – because “republicans buy sneakers, too.”

Nike (NKE) shares declined -3.16% on Tuesday (to $79.60), making it the worst performer within the Dow Jones industrial average, but the decline is not tied to fears over boycotts related to the Kaepernick news. Adidas (ADDYY, -2.4%) and Puma (PMMAF, -2.62%) were also down on Tuesday, leading us to believe the downturn is more closely related to the NAFTA negotiations.

For what it’s worth, according to Apex Marketing Group, the “Just Do It” campaign generated $43 million in media exposure over its first 19 hours; less than one quarter of the responses were negative.

Fan Marino: Nike’s decision to place Kaepernick at the center of a campaign that kicked off just 3 days before the start of the NFL season can’t be sitting well with league owners. Nike is among the league’s top partners and signed a 10-year deal (through ’28) to become the NFL’s game-day uniform and sideline apparel provider back in February; the same league Kaepernick is currently suing in court over allegations its owners have colluded to keep him unemployed because of his activism. Last Thursday, Colin earned a small victory in his grievance against the league as an arbitrator ruled the case can advance.

While Kaepernick’s involvement will certainly draw the most attention, he’s just one of several athletes represented in the 30th anniversary “Just Do It” anniversary campaign. Serena Williams, Odell Beckham Jr., Shaquem Griffin (Seahawks) and Lacey Baker (skateboarder) are all also featured.

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