Nike Nabs Historic Endorsement
“Just Do It.” “Bo Knows.” The American shoe and sportswear mammoth Nike typically features muscular athletes in its commercials like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Serena Williams.
Leaning on inspirational quotes like, “My better is better than your better,” and “Victory is paid for in sweat, courage and preparation” and flashes of agile competitors dripping in victory, Nike’s endorsements have always come from NBA, NFL and other major sports icons.
For the first time in history, Nike has added a player that perhaps perspires a bit less— an e-sports player.
Royal Never Give Up (RNG) might not have emerged victorious after competing in the “League of Legends” (LOL) World Championship, but Nike scored an endorsement by the Chinese team’s top player, Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao.
The endorsement gives major credibility to the increasingly popular battle arena game and its arguably best player.
“It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves and say this deal will open the floodgates for e-sports personalities and competitors in mainstream media, but it could well not be that way at all,” according to E-Sports Insider. “Uzi is a force among a young Chinese audience and it’s clear that this ad campaign is targeted at that demographic, so it could be clever advertising more than acceptance for competitive video gaming.”
While NBA star LeBron James is the face of the “Dribble &” campaign, RNG chimes in with “Dribble & Carry.” The word to note is “Carry,” which is used in LOL to indicate an individual player who carries his or her to the win. “Carry” only appears on Uzi’s shirt.
Some have expressed concern that Nike is throwing away its money on an atypical endorsement just days after the championship loss
sort of a “second place is the first loser” mentality.
Other fans are quick to point out that the deal between the shoe company and Uzi follows on the heels on other major endorsement deals by KFC and Mercedes-Benz.
Chinese actor Bai Jingting also appears alongside Uzi and Lebron in the “Shut Up and Dribble” docuseries. The details of the campaign are unclear, but the ad campaign posted on Weibo names James one of Uzi’s idols and a main source of motivation.
Other companies have jumped on the e-sports train:
Car brand Daimler AG appears on RNG’s jerseys and social media while the stadium in Beijing adopted its name from the fried chicken Harland Sanders started selling roadside during the Great Depression.
Gaming companies such as Tencent Holdings and NetEase have been bleeding money while they wait for the Chinese Propaganda Department’s State Administration of Press and Publication to greenlight new titles.
Why would China gut one of its major industries? Greg Pilarowski, head of law firm Pillar Legal and former general counsel to Chinese game company Shanda Interactive Entertainment cites the governments “love-hate” relationship with the video game industry.
“These companies have been extremely successful, and the games have been leading revenue generators,” Pilarowski said in the Wall Street Journal,
but the amount of time and attention Chinese youth devote to gaming concern older generations.
Uzi is still a hot commodity after he won the LPL spring and summer championships, the mid-season, the intercontinental and Asian Games champions despite the championship loss. Nike is able to draw from a country with a huge population, reach untapped audiences and get a strong foothold in the face of U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade war with the East Asian nation.