CSM Releases Latest Podcast Episode With Nike Chairman Emeritus Phil Knight

In the sixth episode of CSM Sport & Entertainment’s podcast series, ‘Extraordinary Tales in Extraordinary Times', released this week, host Seb Coe spoke to Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Nike, Phil Knight, to find out how he built one of the most globally recognisable brands and the impact Covid-19 has had on the business.

In a rare one-on-one interview recorded in late July, Coe and Knight talked at length on a range of topics including Knight’s pathway into athletics, the Nike brand’s formative years, the influence that Michael Jordan and Nike’s other global ambassadors have had on the success of the business, how Covid-19 has impacted Nike’s bottom line and its stance on social impact.

CSM’s Non-Executive Chairman Coe introduces his guest as a “game changer, buccaneer and runner”, reflecting with Knight on the impact of role models in their lives – their relationships with their fathers and the impact on Phil’s life of his coach and business partner Bill Bowerman who as his “second father and more than that”, always taught Knight “Nike makes the worst shoes in the world … except for everybody else!”

Knight shares with Coe how Nike’s bottom line, retail accounts and stores have been affected so far this year by the global pandemic, commenting, “It hammered us. I don’t know that it’s over and we don’t know how this ends. We’re certainly doing better now than in our last quarter.”

On sport and its recovery after Covid-19 he reflects: “What really concerns me is are we going to have an Olympic Games? I’m optimistic sport will come back bigger and more popular than ever.”

Looking further back to Nike’s transition into a marketing-oriented business and the influence of Michael Jordan, Knight outlines the increasing importance of ambassadorial relationships: “In the early years, we had to find people who were renegades or, if we couldn’t get the best people, we got the second-best people. We chipped away and with a decent reputation for quality and innovation, the great endorsements became much easier to find.”

Knight also acknowledges that even a world-renowned brand can sometimes benefit from a stroke of free publicity, with an engaging anecdote about how David Stern inadvertently granted Nike some much-needed attention amongst basketball fans in the US.

“It was a stroke of luck that David Stern, NBA commissioner at the time, banned the first Air Jordan shoe for having too many colours in it. Well, you can’t get any better publicity than that! Every kid wanted the banned shoe. Even the world’s leading brands can do with a bit of free publicity! The last game that he played, the Jordan shoe and apparel were selling about $800m per year. Since he’s been retired, they’re selling $3.5bn a year. Can you imagine how many we would have sold if he had never played! MJ’s a massive reason why Nike has been so successful.”

Coe and Knight also discuss Black Lives Matter and why a conversation with Lebron James led to Nike taking a stand against racism: “It’s important for any company in 2020 to take a stand on issues that go to the core of who it is and who its audience is. Nike shouldn’t jump out on any political or social issue. But the African-American athlete is our core, so we feel compelled to respond to the issues affecting them.”

 

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