Nike cops flak after basketball player's shoe splits during game

Nike has found itself in the crossfires after a Duke University basketball player Zion Williamson's shoe split, reportedly 33 seconds into the game causing him a sprained knee. Videos of the split shoe was thrust into the Internet, circulating online since yesterday.

In a statement to Marketing, a Nike spokesperson said this was an "isolated occurrence" and that the team is working to identify the issue. The sportswear giant also said that it is concerned about the player's injury and wishes him "speedy recovery". In a statement released by Duke University, the player has been diagnosed with a Grade 1 right knee sprain.

The sportswear giant has a 12-year contract with Duke University Athletics. Nike supplies all 27 of the Blue Devils’ athletics teams with uniforms, footwear, apparel and equipment innovation through 2027. Duke Athletics and Nike have been partners since 1992, before the extension of the contract.

Meanwhile, Former US president Barack Obama, who was a spectator at the game, tweeted in response to the player's injury. NBA star LeBron James was also another who tweeted about the incident, commenting that the player "literally blew through his shoes".

While Twitter has shown active conversation around the incident, industry players that Marketing spoke to said that despite being embroiled in a PR nightmare, it is not "end of the world" especially for a brand such as Nike. Lars Voedisch, managing director, PRecious Communications said that it is unlikely that Nike’s popularity within the sport will be affected, given its "prominent standing and solid brand value".

According to Voedisch, signing to be an exclusive merchandise supplier for a sports team, comes with an added responsibility to ensure that the products are of "exceptional quality". He added that this incident will serve as a wake-up call and ensure that products supplied to sports teams are thoroughly checked before dispatch.

"What Nike is experiencing can be severe and go way beyond becoming a meme or be trolled online, potentially wiping out billions in market value. This also provides a case for liability, negative social sentiment and loss of sales," he said.

Meanwhile, Wesley Gunter, PR director, Right Hook Communications said that there are many companies that have experienced product failures in recent years such as Toyota, but have made an almost full recovery with consumer confidence restored.  However, he said that stating that this incident is an "isolated occurrence" is not enough. He explained that Nike has to separate the product failure from its brand image, possibly pulling all of the sneaker models off the shelves and providing customers with refund to save its brand reputation.

"Alternatively if Nike can prove that the broken shoe is really an isolated occurrence through a thorough investigation and share the results with the public, it could somewhat restore brand confidence," Gunter said.