RBR Interview: John Capriotti, Nike Global Director of Athletics Sports Marketing, by Larry Eder

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This interview was done with John Capriotti, NIke Global Director of Athletics, during the second week of December. I gave Cap the questions, and he responded. We had discussed the idea at the NXN Meet on December 6.

John Capriotti, like his counterparts at adidas, Reebok, ASICS is constantly on the hot seat. Everyone is a backseat coach or judge-why didn't you get this athlete? why do you have this athlete?

Consider that picking athletes is an educated guess. Nike picks Bekele, adidas picks Gebrselassie, adidas picks Wariner, Nike picks Merritt, Nike picks Dragila, adidas picks Isinbayeva. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. Capriotti has done a pretty good job in that arena. Consider Paula Radcliffe, Kara Goucher, Walter Dix and Shalane Flanagan.

Honestly, without the footwear brands supporting track & field, there would be no elite sport or major meets. Building javelin boots is not a profitable business. HOWEVER, the 1.4 million high school boys and girls who ran in the US last year, purchased five pairs of running shoes last year, at an average cost of $90, and that $450 times 1.4 million means that kids who run, jump and throw are buying nearly a half BILLION worth of running shoes.

The running footwear biz is a $7 billion a year business, take the prep part of the sport and consider that the average adult core runner is purchasing three pairs of running shoes at $110 a pair average. With about three million (consider runners who go four or more days a week) core runners, that is just over six hundred million dollars. The creme de la creme of our biz is the $1.4 billion all sold for $90 or more in the US, and that is what Nike, adidas, ASICS, Brooks,Saucony and New Balance are fighting over.

John Capriotti is a sports marketer with the soul of a track coach. He rarely picks the wrong athletes to sponsor, and works very hard to make the Swoosh stand out above his competition.

John Capriotti, Global Director of Athletics Sports Marketing for Nike

RBR: Tell us about the Nike philosophy of sponsoring athletes.

Cap: Nike’s philosophy for sponsoring track & field athletes is simple. It’s about building long-term, meaningful relationships with athletes who can represent our brand and the sport in a positive way. We look for great athletes with great stories who are also ambassadors for the sport and positive role models for kids. We look for their potential when they’re young so we can support them early on and as they develop in their career.

Paula Radcliffe

(An example of Nike's athletes would be world record holder Paula Radcliffe, shown in a short video before the Beijing Olympics. Radcliffe won her third title at the ING New York City marathon after her disappointment at Beijing.).

RBR: Eugene 2008 showed the sport how an event can be produced, in my mind, it also must have shown Nike higher ups that athletics can be huge for Nike. Your thoughts?

Cap: Eugene 08 may have been one of the best events for track & field ever. It was exciting and entertaining, and the combination of the fans with the athletes in Eugene, Oregon, was like no other event. For Nike, track & field has always been important—it’s our heritage and Eugene is the birthplace of our brand. From an executive leadership perspective, there’s never been a doubt in anyone’s mind that track & field is important, and having the opportunity to show members of our leadership team this personally was a great opportunity to show them that a track & field event can compete with any athletic event when done right.

RBR: How important is Galen Rupp's win, and Ducks win at NCAA? More than symbolism?

Cap: Galen’s win and the Ducks’ win are very important, and both go much further than symbolism. Having an NCAA champion from Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, with the history here in Hayward, Dellinger, Bowerman and Knight transcends the individual and the moment. It’s good for the University of Oregon, and most importantly, it’s good for track & field in the U.S. Over the years Eugene has had a tremendous impact on the sport, but a win like this, combined with other events like the USATF Olympic Trials, rekindles the emotion behind the sport and the aura that UO and Eugene bring to it. Ultimately Galen’s and the Ducks’ success is good for everyone vested in the health and prosperity of this sport.

RBR: Can you give me the significance of the Bank of America Chicago marathon sponsorship?

Cap: As one of the World Marathon Majors, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon is one of the premier marathon events in the world. To play a role in this marathon means having the opportunity to communicate to and authenticate our brand with 35,000 runners and everyone else in the world who look to Chicago each year as part of the greater landscape of what’s pinnacle in the sport. Chicago is also an important community for us from a business perspective, and the chance to sponsor the marathon gives us the potential to showcase all of our efforts with runners in the city, as well as around the world.

RBR: Same question, for the USA Track & Field sponsorship?

Cap: There’s no question in my mind that USATF is the No. 1 track and field team in the world, having historically performed the best in the Olympics and the world championships. We’ve had a long relationship with USATF--since 1991—and we see this relationship and the opportunity it gives us to showcase our product as one of the most important things we do in the sport. It’s about having the best team in the world wearing our best performance footwear and apparel and representing the brand.

Kara Goucher Video

(One of Capriotti's picks, Kara Goucher, not only made the US Olympic team at 10,000 meters and 5,000 meters where she placed tenth in the 10,000 meters in a personal best. Her debut over the marathon distance at ING New York kept the media fascinated. Goucher just announced that she will run the 2009 BAA Boston Marathon. This video was done just before the Beijing Olympics.)

RBR: How many major track meets does Nike sponsor in Europe? Will that change with adidas sponsorship of IAAF?

Cap: We’ve sponsored four major meets in Europe for the last several years: the Berlin Golden League in June, Stockholm Dngalen in July, Lausanne in July and Rieti in September. Adidas’ sponsorship of IAAF won’t affect our current sponsorships.

RBR: How does the economic picture affect your ability to implement sports marketing projects?

Cap:No company is immune from the challenges of the current economy and it’s something we will take into account as necessary.

RBR: How would you describe the Beijing experience for Nike?

Cap: Beijing was a tremendous experience for Nike and the athletes we serve. We spent years leading up to the games developing the best and most innovative performance products for the Olympians. We introduced technologies like Flywire, Lunarlite foam, and Aerographics to the world and athletes bearing the Swoosh performed extremely well. Everyone at Nike gets inspired by the Olympics and we’re already hard at work designing innovative products for Vancouver 2010.

RBR: Finally, outside of track & field, your favorite sport? Fave sports team?

Cap: Outside of the greatest sport of all time, track & field, I’d have to say college basketball and football. My favorite college football team is Kansas State. I grew a huge loyalty to the team during my time there as head coach of the men’s and women’s track team. It was the same time that we brought in Bill Snyder to help turn the football team around after going more than two years without a win. On the basketball side, my favorite team is a fictitious one—Hickory, in the movie “The Hoosiers” which was a nod to the great, small-town team in Milan, Indiana that won the state championship in the 1950s. I watch that movie and the scene of them winning the championship over and over with my two sons, who are three and five years old. My youngest just can’t believe that Jimmy Chitwood never misses that final shot. But nothing compares to track & field, and if I had to pick one sports moment to relive forever, it would be the Prefontaine Classic—which to me is the best two and a half hours of the year. It’s magic every time.

Special thanks to John Capriotti, Jacie Prieto and Jill Zanger of Nike.

Videos courtesy of Nike.

For more on Nike, please check, http://www.Nike.com/running

For more on our sport, please check, http://www.american-trackandfield.com

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