Nike gets Olympians to run out on strikers

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All-star athletes, refusing to run in place, are defying the prolonged commercial actors' strike.

Olympic track stars Michael Johnson and Marion Jones are among the latest to cross the picket line; each has filmed separate Nike commercials in the past three weeks, according to sports marketing executives. Both are Screen Actors Guild members.


SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists struck the advertising industry on May 1, and talks to resolve the strike last week yielded no signs of an end date.

Nike has a long-term association with the track stars, and the commercials will tout the athletes' involvement in the upcoming Sydney Summer Olympics, as well as Nike apparel. Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., produced the ads, which will run on NBC, CNBC and MSNBC -- the broadcast and cable networks that will telecast the games in September.

A Nike spokesman wouldn't confirm the ad shoots, but said, "There is a small window of opportunity here and we need to continue with our business."

Sports executives agreed Olympians are more likely than other athletes to cross the picket line because they are in the spotlight only once every four years at best.

"This may be it for the rest of their career," said Mike Trager, president of TV and entertainment for sports marketing agency SFX Entertainment, New York. "They may not get another shot at this. How many Olympic athletes can sustain their life as an athlete? Carl Lewis, maybe."


Two non-Olympic athletes -- Kurt Warner of the St. Louis Rams and Terrell Davis of the Denver Broncos -- also broke ranks with striking commercial actors to star in ads for Campbell Soup Co.'s Chunky brand. In response, the NFL players union reiterated a statement encouraging players not to participate in commercials during the strike.

Two other pro footballers broke ranks with the union earlier. Keyshawn Johnson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Eddie George of the Tennessee Titans appeared in separately produced spots for Adidas America (AA, May 22).


"It comes down to protecting their commitment," said Bob Williams, president of Burn Sports, a Chicago-based sports marketing agency. "They've got a problem because training camp begins next month and they have pressure from companies" with which Messrs. Johnson and George have endorsement contracts.

Ira Shepard, counsel for the joint policy committee for the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said he believes other athletes are participating in non-union commercial shoots.

"Athletes do not like sitting on sidelines," he said.

Others disagreed. "Our players are clearly in support of the Screen Actors Guild," said Reed Bergman, president of Impact Sports Marketing, Atlanta. "We will not cross the picket line unless it's blessed by the Major League Baseball Player's Association or the Screen Actors Guild."

Impact represents more than 100 major and minor league ballplayers including Greg Maddux, Alex Rodriguez and Bernie Williams, who have canceled, postponed or rescheduled shoots.

Boston Red Sox player Normar Garciaparra and golfer Tiger Woods also have delayed commercial productions because of the strike.

Federal mediators last week met separately with SAG/AFTRA and negotiators representing advertisers and ad agencies. The talks yielded no movement on compensation issues.


Also last week, a Canadian arbitrator said interim SAG/AFTRA agreements with advertisers do not apply to either Canadian or American unionized actors working in Canada under the Association of Canadian Television & Radio Artists.

Some advertisers have traveled to Canada for commercial shoots to avoid the strike. SAG and AFTRA have been pushing advertisers to sign individual interim agreements so they can continue to use member actors. But most major advertisers have rejected the agreements, preferring to use non-union talent in new commercials.

Contributing: David Goetzl, Laura Petrecca

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