By Yasmin Khostovan, Head of Media
It’s not often I find myself caring about matters relating to football. I couldn’t tell you Arsenal’s latest score or the first thing about the offside rule. What I can tell you is that after the incredible achievement of making it to the final of the Women’s World Cup, the Lionesses have stirred up an unwavering sense of pride in the nation. And after some football controversy, one player’s roar could still be heard days after the team touched down at Heathrow.
I’m talking about Mary Earps. And how she has gone head(er) to head(er) with one of the biggest companies in the world – Nike. The mega brand made the beyond baffling decision not to sell her number 1 Lionesses shirt for the tournament. According to Earps, “Mary Queen of Stops” to her fans, she even offered to pay for production herself. It came to a head when she made the issue public ahead of the Lionesses opener, branding the decision “very hurtful”.
And I get it! A year from their Euros win, little girls with big dreams of becoming a goalkeeper were let down by a brand that should know better. And I just can’t get my head around what was going through the Nike executive’s minds when they made the decision – not only to not produce Earps’ shirt, but any goalkeepers in the tournament. Now, again, no expert but I’d have thought they were a pretty important part of the team?!
But the most shocking thing was not Nike’s decision in the first place but how the brand, that has always got so much right, let this drag on with no statement for weeks, refusing to respond to journalist enquiries. Where was the apology? Where was the statement of intent from a brand that claims to care about Women’s football? There are definitely times when a minimal response is required, but it’s clear as day that this was not one of those times. And beyond that, why not spring into action and try to sell them during the tournament when sentiment towards the brand was beginning to shift negatively – production lead times an issue? Not a great excuse but something worth communicating. A simple “We hear you, we’re on it, bear with us” would have been better than the stone-cold silence.
They were just hoping, assuming, that after the final things would die down and people would move on.
Move on they did not. The petition continued to grow; any pro-Lionesses content they put on social was being hammered in the comments from angry fans demanding answers. Nike responded by having the brand channel team pin a woolly comment to one post that only prompted more questions from fans – “so when can we expect the Earps shirt then?”. No response to these comments was issued. A clear ‘never apologise, never explain’ strategy was in place and while we’ll never know what happened behind closed doors, I’d have hoped their agency partners were having serious discussions to advise against that – we certainly would have been.
Then it got worse. A Nike statement was released which included this line; “The fact that there’s a conversation on this topic is testament to the continued passion and energy around the women’s game and we believe that’s encouraging.”. This to me reads as the brand patting Earps on the head and saying, ‘you go girl!’.
In a plot twist, probably aided by the 160,000 who signed the petition on Change.org, Nike finally caved. They are going to sell the shirt. In limited quantities mind, but it’s a start. It’s not lost on me or many others the painful irony of their iconic tagline in this whole debacle. When your brand fans, customers, partners and peers are expecting you to be better, and calling on you to communicate with them and provide answers, our advice would be Just Do It.