Nike Chairman Phil Knight, who Revolutionised Modern Football to Step Down

Hi everyone,Phil Knight
Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike, has recently called time on a more than 40-year career as chairman of the sportswear company. Nike said on Tuesday that Knight has recommended that Mark Parker, the company’s chief executive, should succeed him as chairman sometime next year. Further, the company also named Travis Knight, his son, as the newest member of Nike’s board of directors.

I vividly remember that summer 94 after Brazil won the World Cup in the US, Phil Knight said loud and clear on TV “We want to be the number 1 football brand in the world”. To me, that was bold and unexpected because Nike was essentially a Basket Ball brand, not a football brand, but hey, “just do it” is their motto right?  In 1994, although Nike was a powerful sports brand, the swoosh was nowhere close to adidas in football. 

Two decades later, Nike has become the adidas’ strongest challenger in football.

Through partnerships with global clubs such as FC Barcelona, Manchester United (which will be outfitted by adidas from season 15/16 on), Inter Milan, but also iconic football federations such as Brazil, France (that signed a partnership deal with Nike after  38 years’ partnership with adidas) and recently, England. Nike also partnered with top players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney or Zlatan Ibrahimovic. 

Knight put his plans to work and Nike closed the gap with adidas in 20 years. He revolutionised the industry with a strong and aggressive marketing approach. Nike instilled fierce competition that was beneficial to the whole industry. Values of winning and be number 1 at all costs led other sports brands to up their game and respond to the Beaverton firm.

Something that caught my attention that illustrates how Nike has significantly penetrated football. In June 2013, I was at the RFK stadium in Washington for the game USA vs Germany. Needless to say that adidas is a German based company where obviously the local market and the national team are incredibly important. 

Well, at that game, no German player in the start 11 was wearing adidas footwear. Something completely unthinkable 10 years prior, especially within the German National team. 

June 2013, US v Germany No German player wearing adidas

So Nike and Phil Knight managed to shake up the football marketing industry to the point where German players are not ‘automatically’ going for their beloved national football brand. Nike also managed to snatch the French National team from adidas, a partnership that lasted 38 years.

Back to 1994. After Phil Knight outlined his plans to take over worldwide football, I was discussing this topic with my marketing teacher in University.
He said something along those lines“[Quote] Nike will fail to be a football brand because they are an American brand, and what do Americans know about football? They should stick to US sports and create value for sports they know and are good at. [\unquote]

I disagreed with his statement, thinking that a sports brand that sponsors Michael Jordan and John McEnroe could not fail if they put their mind to tackling football.

Phil Knight said: “For me, Nike has always been more than just a company – it has been my life’s passion “Over the years, I’ve spent a great deal of time considering how I might someday evolve my ownership and leadership of Nike in a way that benefits all of our stakeholders. Today, we have taken a number of important steps that will continue to promote Nike’s long-term growth.”

To implement the new ownership structure for Knight’s Nike Class A Common Stock, Knight has formed a Limited Liability Company named Swoosh, LLC, and has contributed 128,500,000 shares of Nike Class A Common Stock to the entity representing approximately 15% of the combined total outstanding shares of Nike Class A and Class B Common Stock. 

Although stepping down, Phil Knight will still be influential in Nike’s future, but it must be said that his vision, attitude and mindset to bring Nike to football has been incredibly inspirational.

Karl Lusbec