Nike & NFL motives

Author Stephanie Yi, University of San Francisco

Author Jamal Rasheed, University of San Francisco

Posted: October 28, 2017

Tagged: fan motives

Since Nike is going into their second year as the National Football League’s (NFL) apparel sponsor, they are attempting to grow their Nike brand in football. This year, the company is launching their biggest marketing campaign for the NFL since 2012, called “Who You With” (Lefton, 2017, para. 2). This is an unorthodox approach because Nike is the official sponsor for the NFL, yet it is focusing its advertisements toward building a campaign to sell the entire brand as opposed to selling NFL-specific products. “Who You With” starts with an adrenaline rushing ad starring current NFL players and hall-of-famers. The campaign has a chance to grow Nike’s large football platform with a mix of some interesting strategic marketing strategies.

The brand is taking a macro-approach in terms of targeting a broader audience, more than just its football fan base. It is essentially targeting the core of consumers’ motives: identification within the group setting. According to the Sport Fan Motivation Scale (SFMS), group affiliation is one key factor that compels sport consumers to attend an event in order to satiate their longing for unity and belongingness (Pons, Giroux, & Mourali, 2014). Nike is tapping into this factor of consumer motivation where the NFL jersey will represent a fan’s identification in terms of a social and cultural identity. For example, in the “Who You With” commercial Nike released, NFL players announce and wear different team colors that insinuates if one wears the black and yellow, they belong or are apart of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The commercial gets deeper when the players talk about some of the environment aspects of the team’s hometown, like “the cold” for Buffalo. This is an attempt to show pride in the team and allow the consumer to empathize with his or her players because they know their team plays in difficult weather, unlike many others. By adding this tagline of “Who You With”, Nike is subconsciously, yet not so discreetly provoking a fan’s sense of entitlement of group affiliation. Fans are very much motivated to purchase apparel or merchandise to depict whom they are, what team they represent, and to portray a sense of belonging to an entity.

According to Wann, sports fans can fulfill their self-esteem through a sense of pride they feel in being part of a team (Pons et al., 2014). Team merchandise is the closest thing consumers can have to putting on an actual helmet, jersey, and pads. In the “Who You With” commercial the apparel the players wear are items that supporters can buy. This will play to the excitement of many fans because if you have the same gear as the players on your favorite team, you are likely to feel more connected. Along with that connection, comes pleasure and excitement. When the team wins, it adds to the fans’ overall joy. A win for the team is a win for the consumer. That type of emotional investment influences a person’s attitude during and after a game.

Nike’s campaign is primarily targeting the more “young and urban” (Lefton, 2017, para. 5). Young stars in the NFL like, Odell Beckham Jr. are featured, a player most young and urban fans can resonate with. The campaign allows these younger buyers to further develop their sports identity. Sports identity is something that occurs when a person sees their sports team in his or herself, becoming an essential part of their self- definition (Pons et al., 2014, p. 45). This is a possibility for many urban youth because many of them may have grown up similar to Odell Beckham Jr. and he is closer in age. Many younger fans can see some of themselves in him. Furthermore, the campaign interacts with older fans as well even if they are not the primary focus. Odell Beckham Jr. is wearing NFL hall of famer, Lawrence Taylor jersey in the campaign (Lefton, 2017, para. 7). So, for those long team Giants fans they can connect their old hero, with their current one. This is a scared motive, because Lawrence Taylor has symbolic meaning to a long time Giants fan. It is as if the baton is being passed on to the next generation.

By encouraging fans to draw one’s identity to a specific team especially to a certain city, Nike is attempting to create a story out of each fan as well. The marketers know that each fan has his/her own memorable tale as to how s(he) became a diehard fan. Therefore, by soliciting fans to share their personal story, the marketers have already established a proactive measure in determining a positive reaction from fans’ attributes or benefits to the Nike product. For instance, the fan is now much more likely to be excited to share their own story (first level of laddering of “attribute/ benefit”) and feel a sense of obligation to purchase the apparel (labeled as “consequence”). This fan is now part of the group and identifies with the team and indirectly, with Nike (last level of “value”) (Funk & Lock, 2014). The tagline once again plays an eminent role in advertisement because fans are much more likely to consider purchasing an apparel to share his/her own story as opposed to advertising an apparel of Tom Brady’s jersey, which won’t have much significance especially now that possibly hundred thousands of people own the same piece of clothing. It is important that marketers realize appealing to group identification, while simultaneously appealing to individualistic uniqueness and quality of being special.

Hence, fans will then use the Nike trademarked NFL-jersey to display self-expression within the context of the team. The status of a fan’s sporty identity can become an integral part of the individual especially if s(he) sees a functional significance and symbolic meaning behind the team (Funk & Lock, 2014) This will likely occur from the highly symbolic value the jersey holds, which is derived from a personal attachment via a personalized story. In addition, Nike is offering personalized customizations for the jerseys (Lefton, 2017, para. 7). This will allow an opportunity for fans to express themselves in accordance to team affiliation (Pons et al., 2014). Overall then, this Nike campaign adheres perfectly to the module of tapping into a fan’s yearn for group belongingness while allowing room for self-expression.



Funk, D. C., & Lock, D. (2014). Sport consumer attitudes: Formation, function, and effects on information processing. In M. P. Pritchard, & J. L. Stinson (Eds.), Leveraging brands in sport business (pp. 37-50). New York, NY: Routledge.

Lefton, T. (2017, August 28). Nike goes big, broad with new NFL campaign. SportsBusiness Journal, 20(19), 4. Retrieved from

Pons, F., Giroux, M., & Mourali, M. (2014). Consumer behavior and motivation: Why are sport event consumers so special? In M. P. Pritchard, & J. L. Stinson (Eds.), Leveraging brands in sport business (pp. 21-36). New York, NY: Routledge.


About Stephanie Yi, University of San Francisco

Stephanie Yi is currently pursuing a Masters in Sport Management at the University of San Francisco. She graduated from the University of Southern California in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a double-minor in Linguistics and Forensics & Criminality. She is currently volunteering for the UCLA Then Now Forever Alumni Tailgating and is looking to gain more experience in game operations and fan management. This article is an edited version of a paper prepared for Dr. Michael M. Goldman’s Sport Marketing class at the University of San Francisco.

About Jamal Rasheed, University of San Francisco

Jamal Rasheed is currently a student in the Sport Management Program at the University of San Francisco. He graduated from Morehouse College in 2016 with a degree in Business Management. Jamal currently works at a community organization called the East Oakland Youth Development Center as the Assistant Pathway to College Coordinator, and as an intern in the USF Athletic Department.  His passion in sports is to work with players in areas such as, development and player engagement. This article is an edited version of a paper prepared for Dr. Michael M. Goldman’s Sport Marketing class at the University of San Francisco.

IImage by @NigelSylvester, "channeling my inner Joe Namath for the new @usnikefootball Jersey campaign. #WhoYouWith @nyjets", Retrieved from