Sports, Celebrity, Scandal … and Nike’s Winning Streak?

Flickr/bilobicles bag

Flickr/bilobicles bag

First it was Marion Jones, then Tiger Woods, followed by Lance Armstrong and, most recently, Oscar Pistorius. That is, star athletes whose names hit the headlines once again, only this time it wasn’t for their latest sports coup, but for scandal. As it turns out, these athletes have more in common than world-class sporting skills and celebrity. They are all – or in all but Woods’ case, were – sponsored by Nike (note the prophetic Oscar Pistorius ad for Nike above). Of course, Nike isn’t alone in its sponsorship of top athletes, but it certainly has a record for holding the best roster. Indeed, it’s got the money to pay for it.

In 2012, Forbes ranked Nike as the most valuable sports brand in the world, pegging the worth of its Nike-branded products at nearly $16 billion. It’s also the big spender when it comes to athlete endorsements. In 2012, its annual report showed that the company had dedicated $3.2 billion to endorsement deals over the following five years.

It all seems to fit, doesn’t it? The sports company that dominates its industry is also the one that clothes and promotes athletes who don’t just win, but who demolish the competition, the records and even the limits of what was previously thought possible. In terms of marketing, sporting a Nike logo while doing something deemed impossible for your sport is about as good as it gets.

Unless, of course, that athlete is caught doing something a little less laudable, whether it’s the use of performance-enhancing drugs, a brush with the law or a scandal of a more personal nature. Privacy, after all, is one perk that doesn’t come with promotion.

Athlete scandals are hardly new, but the size and publicity of recent scandals has upped the ante from minor faux pas to epic fail. As a result, the view of athlete endorsement appears to have shifted, leaving many people wondering whether companies can afford the liability their multi-million dollar celebrity endorsements increasingly entail. These errant athletes are an embarrassment to the brands they represent, critics say, and they’re bad role models for consumers.

But does any of that even matter? When it comes to a company like Nike, the answer isn’t as clear-cut as you might imagine. Read all about it in my new post on

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