Shares of Nike reached an all-time high Friday afternoon, rebounding from a recent dip spurred by concerns about consumer boycott after the athletic apparel maker signed a high-profile deal with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The company’s stock rose slightly on Friday, closing at $83.49. Since Nike announced the campaign on Labor Day, shares are up about 4 percent. Longer-term, Nike stock has surged 33 percent this year as Wall Street bet that the company would be able to ride out the negative publicity. Online sales of Nike gear jumped 31 percent from Sept. 2 through Sept. 4, nearly double the company’s sales during the same period a year ago, according to Edison Trends, a digital commerce research company.
Kaepernick gained notoriety for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police shootings of unarmed African Americans. He opted out of his contract in 2017, although there were reports the San Francisco 49ers were preparing to cut him during the off-season. Subsequently, the quarterback claimed in a lawsuit that the NFL’s 32 teams colluded to deny him a chance to play for another team. The case is currently in arbitration.
The ad features a close-up of Kaepernick’s face and the tagline “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” The spot proved polarizing, with some consumers voicing their displeasure by burning Nike merchandise. President Donald Trump, who has frequently criticized the anthem protests, denounced Nike’s campaign for sending a “terrible message.”
“In my view, fans believe it is disrespectful to kneel during the national anthem,” wrote Christopher Arps, a member of the conservative Project 21 national advisory council, at the conservative publication The Daily Caller. “We don’t want to see or hear someone’s political speech or opinions. We want to escape for a few hours to watch great athletes entertain us. Especially when we’ve paid a lot of money to watch.”
Core customer base
The Kaepernick campaign, however, is resonating with the company’s core customer base, such as millennial and Generation Z men, “in a way that is authentic, culturally relevant, experiential and emotionally engaging,” according to Wedbush Analyst Christopher Svezia.
In a recent client note, Svezia pointed out that Nike gained around 170,000 followers on Instagram in the wake of the campaign. The Kaepernick ad could become the company’s most-liked Instagram post, drawing a record number of comments, although many of those remarks were critical of the company.
“In the end, the net follower gains and possible record likes by Americans, as well as the company’s consumer demographic, lead us to believe that the Kaepernick ad campaign was a positive for the brand and likely its sales,” writes Svezia, who rates Nike “outperform.”
Svezia’s view is backed up by recent polling data from Harris which found that 29 percent of young men said they would buy Nike products in the future because of the Kaepernick spot, compared with 19 percent of consumers overall. Consumers who identified themselves as conservative opposed the company’s decision while liberals supported it.
Nike ranks 10th among U.S. companies for brand relevance, according to a survey of 3,000 millennials from brand and marketing consulting firm Prophet. The apparel company’s willingness to “push the status quo,” the quality of its products and its ability to inspire people are reasons why the brand draws consumers, said Jesse Purewal, an associate partner in the firm.
Controversy can help get consumers talking about a brand, Purewal said. “You are going to invite people to participate in the dialogue that your brand has begun,” he noted.
Nike, which has stood by other athletes involved in controversies such as golfer Tiger Woods, is one of the few brands that is highly rated by consumers across demographic categories, said Prophet Chief Growth Officer Scott Davis.
A spokesperson for Beaverton, Oregon-based Nike couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.