#JustDoIT vs. Khalil Mack


The two biggest storylines to emerge in the days before the NFL season kicks off involve both on-field and off-field narratives. The first is the trade of All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears from the Oakland Raiders. The second is Nike announced free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the featured spokesperson for the 30th anniversary of the company’s signature “Just Do It” (#JustDoIt) campaign and is reportedly providing him with his own signature shoe and apparel line.

The fact that both of these events happened within days of each other created an interesting question. Would the most important on-field event (Mack’s trade) or the most important off-field event (Kaepernick’s new Nike relationship) generate more interest?

We used Block Six Analytics Social Sentiment Analysis Platform (SAP) and cross-channel analytics to find out the answer looking at a sample of recent Twitter conversation. In the past seven days, there were 203,673 posts about #JustDoIT tweets with the top-25 posts from accounts with the largest reach generating 16.4 million impressions, $98.6k in value and 44.1% average sentiment score (SAP scales runs from -100% to 100%). Mack posts generated 86,951 tweets with the top-25 posts generating 3.1 million impressions, $18.5k in value, and 28.2% average sentiment.

There is little doubt that the #JustDoIt conversation had significantly more posts than the Khalil Mack news. This clearly shows that off-field considerations are critical for strategic decision making by sports industry leaders. More specifically, an athlete’s off-field star power can generate significant value for a corporate partner or team even if he / she is not playing well (or in Kaepernick’s case at all).

Nike’s new deal with Kaepernick clearly demonstrates that point. Kaepernick’s jersey has consistently been a top seller among NFL jerseys even when he was not playing. Nike is the official uniform and apparel provider for the NFL, and its core business is sports apparel. The fact that Kaepernick is not playing, yet he is still generating these sales is a feature rather than a bug of this decision making process. Nike knows that Kaepernicks’ on-field performance is not required for him to resonate with many of its customers. Therefore, it can be confident that Kaepernick can drive value now and in the future for the company even if Kaepernick does not take another NFL snap.

Looking at jersey sales data and social media conversation for Kapernick is an important data point in examining this relationship. While the conversation around Nike has been generally positive, there has also been a significant backlash from many Nike customers and NFL fans. Yet, both the sales data and conversation show that Kapernick is resonating with the company’s key demographics. 

This does not mean that a team should sign Kaepernick simply because he has demonstrated he can drive partnership revenue while not paying. It also does not mean that on-field performance is not important for corporate partners. Anheuser-Busch (AB) is specifically implementing a performance clause in its partnership agreements. However, AB is specifically implementing this clause because it sees higher beer sales when its rights holders it partners with perform well. That is why the Nike and AB deals can be viewed in a similar light. Both deal types were made and are structured in part to help drive tangible revenue growth. 

The comparison of these two leading headlines clearly shows teams that corporate partners are not solely looking at a team’s or athlete’s on-field performance. They want to know if a relationship with an athlete, team or league will drive tangible business and brand results. That is why we incorporate both on-field and off-field considerations when evaluating player performance in our Revenue Above Replacement model.  Corporate partners are often willing to engage with stars because they drive success for their business if not always for their teams.