Sports brands take stand on social issues as 2020 ushers in change

Some two weeks ago, a few cities were on fire in the USA. In an incident that reeked of racism, George Floyd had succumbed to death in an act that upset millions across the country. The video played out millions of times, evoking extreme reactions worldwide.

It stirred emotions, moved people and goaded them into joining protests. Twelve cities across the US had to be placed under curfew. It did not take long before the protests had found their way through the entire country. Very soon, it had gone global.

The unprecedented situation caused leading names, including sport brands, to come together for a cause that had nothing to do with their core target audience – sports. Since it engages with passionate fans, sport has the power to bring about a change and take the message home among sports fraternities – sportspersons, officials, administrators, coaches and  fans alike.

They had often been criticised for not taking a stand earlier. In doing this, sports brands turned a new leaf.  The way it was successful only confirmed one thing – the combination of passion of sport and the power of brands can be unbeatable.

Nike ‘just did it’

As communities were up in arms, the brand managers of Nike, along with a few communication specialists, were burning the midnight oil. They were developing a message of unity that could be taken across the country and the world. As they narrowed down to the core messaging, it worked like magic.

“Let’s all be part of the change,” Nike wrote on its Twitter handle, which has over 8 million followers. The post was accompanied by a film that has now been viewed over 7.5 million times and has some 5.5 million likes.

It could sound incredible for any brand manager, looking for connecting with fans. But it got better.

It did not take long before Adidas joined in with its message in response. “Together is how we move forward. Together is how we make change,” the rival wrote. Nike promptly sent its love in return.

Arch rivals in such a friendly exchange had people agog with excitement seeing as they tweeted and commented together.

Reebok’s message on Instagram was no less smart work. “We are not asking you to buy our shoes. We are asking you to walk in someone else’s,” the brand, now owned by Adidas, said.

Brands take a stand

Brands are facing increasing pressure from the society and cultures they thrive in. Avoiding political and societal issues can earn them unwanted flak.

NFL, one of the most popular leagues in the US, had the statement shared below from Commissioner Roger Goodell. It faced severe criticism because people believe it has not done enough. For example, there were eight head coaches of NFL teams from the minority community in 2018. That number has now reduced to four.


“Racism as a form of discrimination that seeks to degrade and marginalise people because of their gender, sexual orientation, origin, skin colour, is a pandemic that affects us all. At Barca, we will not stop fighting it,” Barcelona Football Club said in a statement.

That was not quite the stand that the legendary club had taken when Luis Suarez was joining them after biting opponents thrice. He said that he had taken professional help to address the problem. Barca also did not take a similar stand when it signed up with Antoine Griezmann last year who painted his face black at a party. The post on twitter was criticised severely and he apologised for it.

Michael Jordon, no less than a brand himself and the biggest basketball star ever, spoke about the “ingrained racism” in the US. The former Chicago Bulls star has been criticised often in the past for not taking a stand on political issues. At times he did not take a stand and on other occasions, he kept quiet.

“Republicans also buy sneakers” has haunted him all his life. He too has, now, spoken out.

Yearv2020 has often been referred to as having brought challenges for people. If this is one change it can bring for institutions, specifically sports brands, it is welcome.

Fighting rivals teams inside the playing arena is a great spectacle. Staying united with them outside is even greater.

  • Ashutosh Sinha is the founder of WordWiseWeb Media. Read his column on the business of sport here. He can be connected on Twitter at ashutoshsinha00

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