Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hello NIKE

My "relationship" with Nike goes all the way back to 1974, when I got a pair of Nike Pre-Montreal track spikes for the fall cross-country season. I still have the shoes and if they had never been worn, they would be worth a small fortune to a collector. But these have been well worn (see photo), and their only value is the great memories that I have.

Nike began as a running shoe, started by Phil Knight, a former University of Oregon distance runner, and Oregon's legendary track coach, Bill Bowerman. The early days of Nike as exclusively a running shoe company are detailed in "Out of Nowhere: The Inside Story of How Nike Marketed the Culture of Running" written by Geoff Hollister, also a University of Oregon runner and one of the first Nike employees.

During our visit to the Pacific Northwest, Paula and I stopped at the amazing Powell's Book Store in Portland. If you like books, Powell's is a great location to spend time browsing through an incredible inventory. The store is spread out over an entire city block. We only had a couple of hours, but I did pick up a copy of Hollister's book. I'm about half-finished now and can tell you that it's a great read.

After running, the second sport that Nike associated with was basketball. For a Portland-based athletic shoe company, that was only natural, considering that the 76-77 Blazers took the community by storm in winning the NBA championship. Of course, Nike's ultimate success in basketball came quite a few years later with Michael Jordan.

Since the launch of the Harlem Ambassadors, we've desired a relationship with Nike. But finding a connection was difficult. The characteristics that make our show basketball team unique are also factors that make the Harlem Ambassadors defy category segmentation. It's easier to describe what we are NOT, than to say what we are. We are NOT college, we are NOT NBA, we are NOT youth summer AAU basketball, we are NOT all men, we are NOT all women, we are NOT exclusively international, nor are we exclusively domestic. And because we are touring operation, we have no home market or region that we can fit into.

Ultimately, our best connection to Nike was that touring element. You see, Nike has about 150 Factory Stores scattered throughout the country. Once we began examining our touring "footprint" and comparing the locations of these stores, the opportunity to connect with Nike began to make sense.

Add in the fact that Nike was desiring a greater relationship with the community in those markets where Nike Factory Stores are located and we had the basis for a relationship. The type of not-for-profit community organizations that we represent are exactly the kind of groups that Nike Factory Stores desired a connection with. We'll be testing a program in selected locations this fall and are committed to making our association with Nike Factory Stores a beneficial one for both parties and also for our fans.

Since we were in the Pacific Northwest on vacation, Paula and I arranged to visit the Nike World Headquarters Campus and say hello to our Nike Factory Stores contact. Inside the berm that surrounds the wooded site are running trails, a full 400 meter all weather track, and a beautifully manicured soccer field. Other sports facilities are housed indoors.

Every building is named after a Nike star performer. We drove past the Steve Prefontaine Hall, parked across from the Mia Hamm Building, and met our contact in the Pete Sampras Building. An amazing experience.

Our contact was pleased to learn the fact (100% true) that the favorite stop for the Harlem Ambassadors while on tour is to visit a Nike Factory Store. You may see videos of these visits on our social media sites during the season.

We are truly excited to begin our relationship with Nike. More information on our sponsorship with Nike Factory Stores will be coming on our website soon.