What Sports Teams Can Learn From Nike

You’ve probably noticed, but Nike has been giving us all a masterclass in advertising lately. From their latest ad for the USWNT to their show them what crazy dreams can do, spot after spot they have nailed it.

The strong work recently comes as no surprise. Nike is a brand that was built by marketing. More than just the products they sell, Nike represents the power of sports as a vehicle to inspire human potential. There are very few brands who have built such a platform.

Here’s the thing. Nike doesn’t “just do it” when it comes to marketing and advertising. They get it. They get what it means to define your brand, understand your consumer, sell on emotion and play the long-game not the short-game. There is so much to be admired. Sports teams, it’s time to take notice.

Yes, I know. Sports franchises will never have the budget of Nike. Still, though, there are fundamental marketing philosophies that teams would benefit from adopting. And they don’t require a billion-dollar marketing budget. Here are three of them that stand out to me:  


Define your brand beyond the product.

Nike is defined by more than their tangible products. They are defined by their mission, their values and what their brand represents to the consumer. Instead of selling shoes, Nike sells the idea that if you have a body, you are an athlete. Their mission is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.

Throughout the years Nike has consistently created ads that celebrate athletes of all levels. Whether they’re featuring Serena Williams or representing the average consumer, every ad is about people finding their greatness.

What teams can take away:

Too often sports franchises focus solely on the product they put on the field. Marketing and content is centered around the team, the scores and big moments. While that’s obviously a major piece of the puzzle, team performance alone will not take a franchise and turn it into a brand.

Sports are a platform to bring people, communities and cities together. More than the scores, they connect people us, serve as a vehicle for hope and a distraction from the daily grind. It’s the emotional connection people have with teams that needs to be tapped into.

Every sports team needs to take the time to define their why. Every team has scores. Every team has ups and downs. What does your brand stand for? Why do fans gravitate to your team? What’s the emotional connection? What’s the unique story you have to tell? It’s the emotional connection beyond the field that separates teams.

Defining what a team offers beyond the score takes a franchise or program and turns it into a brand. It’s those defining characteristics that draw people in and keep them there through the highs and lows year after year. This type of thinking is key for teams. Take that page from Nike.


Keep it simple & consistent.

Since landing on their sharp positioning and “Just Do It” slogan back in the late 80’s, Nike has kept their message simple and consistent. They don’t have a new tagline every year. They haven’t created a million variations of their logo. They’ve built incredible brand equity by finding the thing that works and staying consistent.

Nike’s brand positioning has stood the test of time. Why? Because it’s multi-dimensional and broad-reaching enough to evolve with the narrative of Nike over the years. It’s about a long game, not the flavor of the day.

What teams can take away:

Once teams have defined their brand, they need to land on their messaging and positioning. Sharp messaging and a consistent rallying point (slogan) have the ability to provide more purpose and focus to a team’s content and creative. They help tie a bow around the story. They can rally a community.

The key is to find messaging that is simple and  has more depth than “just a tagline”.  Taglines must be rooted in insight, strategy and a concept that is multifaceted and can evolve. And, that concept needs to be brought to life across multiple channels and executions – like Nike does.

Great brands aren’t built overnight. They’re built by a sharp POV and consistency – and a simple concept people can easily get. Teams need to find their brand platform that is evergreen, broad-reaching and malleable enough to drive the narrative year after year.

Remember, we as marketers get tired of our work and messaging long before the consumer does. Find your thing and stick to it. Consistency matters.


Make your consumer the hero & muse.

Early on, Nike made the decision to broaden their reach.  The market share for active people vs high performers was much larger so their brand needed to be more inclusive of anyone looking to get active.

The perspective that “if you have a body you are an athlete” broadened the scope of how they approach certain campaigns. Yes, they still feature elite athletes and superstars, but they also appeal to the average person. Take a look at these spots from over the years:

Nike has a way of making creative that speaks to the consumer, not above them. When you watch one of their ads is easy to feel part of the story. Their ads aren’t meant to just lift up the superstars or people in them; they’re meant to lift up and inspire anyone who comes across their spots.

What teams can take away:

Too often in sports it feels like we’re talking to ourselves. Score after score, highlight after highlight. When you work in the industry, it’s easy to forget the magic consumers feel for teams. When we forget the connection well beyond the field, the brand (and creative) losses its magic.

Sports teams could benefit from putting their consumer at the heart of everything they do. It’s our jobs to understand why people gravitate to sports and how we can inspire and celebrate that well beyond the scores. The passion people feel for teams and the game should serve as inspiration for how teams talk about their brand and the experience of gameday.

Make your fans the hero and muse of your creative and magic will unfold. It’s their emotions – and why they gravitate towards your franchise – that are the key to unlocking something really special. Stop talking to them, and instead, bring them into the story and part of the journey.

Below are a few examples of teams that have put their consumer at the center of their creative — but we need more of it and more consistently:



Obviously Nike’s marketing budget is far and beyond what most organization’s will ever see, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find inspiration in how they approach their work. At the end of the day the best thing any team can do is make an investment in their brand and the relationship with their fans. It’s about a long play, not just short gains.

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