So What Exactly Is Vick’s Relationship With Nike?

One of the odder stories of the past couple of weeks concerns Michael Vick and his amazing disappearing Nike contract. What exactly possessed Vick’s endorsement agent, Blue Equity Sports Television Managing Director Mike Principe, to announce this past Wednesday that Vick “just became a Nike client” and “has a new deal” with the company?

Michael Vick

Could it have been a way of testing the waters; a “What if?” type scenario to see if the villagers would take up pitchforks and boycott Nike products if Vick reentered their orbit? Or is Nike simply paying Vick under the table to wear their stuff, thus avoiding the wrath of PETA?

Whether Vick is formally back under contract with Nike or not, the one thing we know for certain is that Nike is giving him free swag; perhaps greasing the wheels for a new deal in the near future. When the report that Vick had re-signed with Nike first surfaced, I contacted Dan Shannon at PETA to get his reaction. He told me that to his knowledge, no such deal existed.

Since then, both Nike and Vick’s agent have backtracked, saying that no formal deal is in place. Hey, said the apparel giant, we’re just giving him free stuff. This caused PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk to send off a letter to Nike president and CEO Mark Parker. Excerpt:

Why is Nike giving free swag to a guy who admitted laughing when he tossed “family pets” into the ring and watched them get ripped to shreds by trained fighting dogs? Is this a guy you want parading around Philly displaying the Nike swoosh? Unless Nike aspires to corner the bottom-feeding dogfighting market, this plan seems designed to have the company’s competitors cheering.

Entire letter here (pdf).

Not that PETA’s response is going to make or break a potential Vick-Nike deal, but the dogged animal rights outfit is a good measuring stick for public outrage. It’s clear that the dust from Vick’s dogfighting past has not settled sufficiently to allow Nike to embrace him openly.

So then, what exactly is their relationship? SPORTSBUSINESSJOURNAL.COM takes a look.

Some in the industry questioned motives or criticized Blue Equity Sports Television Managing Dir Mike Principe, who unveiled the news a the Relay Sports Sponsorship Symposium in N.Y. in front of an audience of high-level sports marketing execs. Asked if Vick would ever get another commercial endorsement deal, Principe said: “He actually just became a Nike client. So he has a new deal with Nike which we are all very pleased about.” Others are wondering exactly what kind of relationship Nike has with Vick and who at the company agreed to provide him with product, without outlining the agreement in a contract.

The Nike statement left many in the industry puzzled, including agents who said Nike typically writes up contracts for product-only or merchandise-only deals with athletes. Agents requested anonymity, saying they did not want to offend Nike because they negotiate deals with the company. “They do contracts for their product-only Nike guys,” said one agent. “If it’s a merchandise-only deal, they absolutely do contracts.” A contract that provides product only, valued at $25,000, for example, would often include incentive clauses for cash payments if the NFL player hit certain targets, such as playing in the Pro Bowl, this agent said. Another agent said Nike sends out tax Form 1099s to players with merchandise-only deals, as these deals often give the athlete and his family the ability to order Nike product for many different sports up to a set dollar amount.

So what seems to be in place here is that Nike is providing Vick with “free product” (love that term), without compensation, to A). Generate a bit of low-risk endorsement buzz, and B). Set the stage for a possible return of Vick to the Nike stable in the future.

Meanwhile, Donovan McNabb is reportedly going to start against the Buccaneers on Sunday, Kevin Kolb returns to the backup spot after becoming a hot prospect in my fanatsy league, and Vick remains a third-string afterthought. In spite of this however, Vick’s future looks intriguing. Who says he has to remain with the Eagles?

Your move, Al Davis.