Why Nike hates this 9-year-old's sweatshirt

The company complains after the son of Florida State's football coach is televised wearing -- gasp -- Under Armour.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 1, 2014 3:05PM
© Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images
FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher, left, reaches to hug his son, EthanBy Sharon Terlep and Andrew Beaton, The Wall Street Journal

Minutes after his team had trounced rival Miami last November, Florida State Football coach Jimbo Fisher got a pleasant surprise. His 9-year-old son Ethan ran up to his dad on the field and leapt into his arms.

Their embrace, captured by ABC cameras, struck most viewers as a heartwarming moment -- especially given Ethan's (pictured) widely reported struggle with Fanconi anemia, a rare and serious genetic disease. But a different reaction emerged from one camp: Nike (NKE). 

In an email sent hours after the Nov. 2 game, Mark Dupes, who as Nike's assistant director for football sports marketing helps oversee the company's $4.2 million licensing and apparel deal with the school, congratulated Florida State administrators on the win. "Hey guys great win and game! Appreciate everything you all do for us! Keep it rolling."

Then Dupes turned to another matter: the sweatshirt Ethan wore during that on-field embrace. 

"Hey got a text from the USA Director of Sports Marketing last night telling me of how good things look w FSU and our players and sideline staff, exposure for the Brand was exceptional. Then 5 min later I rec a new message…Said ABC cameras were on Jimbo and his Son ad end of the game…His son was Wearing Under Armour FSU sweatshirt! Ouch. Can we please ask Jimbo to eliminate that from the son's wardrobe in the future! Let me know if I can help w anything. Thx guys. MD"

Asked about the email Thursday, Monk Bonasorte, FSU's senior associate athletics director, said he remembered receiving it but hadn't acted on it. "What am I going to do, go to coach and say, 'Hey can you take that shirt off him?'" Bonasorte said. "I'm not going to call Jimbo Fisher and tell him what his son can wear."

Bonasorte said he didn't think the email should be taken too seriously. "I think Mark was just trying to say, 'Hey, can the coach's son wear something else?'" he said. "It was more just a joke to us. It wasn't Nike being the big bad wolf telling a kid what to wear."

In a statement, Nike said its "relationship is with the Florida State Department of Athletics and does not extend to their family members." Jimbo Fisher declined to comment. Dupes did not return calls seeking comment.

Photos from subsequent games, including Florida State's national championship win over Auburn, show Ethan Fisher wearing Nike brand apparel.

The November email about Ethan Fisher's sweatshirt is one of several hundred athletic department emails from last fall that the Journal acquired through the Freedom of Information Act. Dozens of the emails, which cover a two-week period, concern FSU's relationship with Nike, which will pay the school $1.4 million in cash and $2.8 million in apparel this year. In the 2012-13 school year, FSU had revenue from its athletic teams of $89.1 million, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

In an email on Nov. 12, FSU trademark licensing director Sherri Dye asked Bonasorte what to do about requests from two Nike rivals -- Under Armour (UA) and Adidas (ADDYY) -- to produce Florida State T-shirts bearing the No. 5 worn by the Seminoles' star quarterback, Jameis Winston. 

"We do not have anything in our contract that prevents us from approving these licensees from making tshirts although I know Nike won't like it," Dye wrote. She noted that another company, which she didn't name, had produced a "nice looking" #5 shirt and sold nearly 10,000 of them in two weeks. "Do you have any issues with us approving?" she asked. Dye didn't return a call seeking comment.

Nike declined to comment on the T-shirt emails. Under Armour didn't return calls seeking comment. Adidas didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

Nike's prominent presence in the internal communications at Florida State isn't a surprise. Athletic apparel companies have been known to dictate everything from the design of a team's uniform to whether players are allowed to wear tape over their cleats.

The apparel companies are also famously vigilant about how their logos and marks appear on television, where a few seconds of exposure can be invaluable. Total retail sales of collegiate licensed products were estimated at $4.6 billion for 2013, according to estimates from License! Global Magazine.

Last year, for instance, Nike asked several top college football programs, including Alabama, to return the apparel it had sent because it did not believe the logos were prominent enough on television. The clothing was then sent back to the teams with an extra logo.

—Sara Germano and Rachel Bachman contributed to this article.

More from The Wall Street Journal

Aug 1, 2014 3:44PM
Oh, please, give it a rest!  If Nike's profit margin is that tenuous that it is threatened by the garb of a 9-year-old, it needs to give up the ghost and let the competition have its share of the market. 
Aug 1, 2014 6:11PM
Hey Nike, you didn't like what the coach's son was wearing, how about furnishing a Nike wardrobe for the boy instead of whining about the shirt he wore? I didn't notice, I just saw the obvious love between the boy and his dad....you saw it as a betrayal of your brand? Unbelievably tacky and cheap of you.
Aug 1, 2014 3:43PM
I don't buy any Nike crap.  I don't care who's wearing it.  Unless Nike is sending you a check each month, why would anybody pay for or wear anything with their swoosh?
Aug 1, 2014 4:25PM
How about 90,000 Under Armour posters at the first fsu home game this year, That should shut Nike up for a while and remind them they don't own college football like they think they do.
Aug 1, 2014 4:48PM
Under Armor is such a better product than Nike.  I don't blame them.  I would be jealous too.
Aug 1, 2014 3:49PM
I'd be willing to bet Nike gave the Fishers Nike garb for the whole family after this.
Aug 1, 2014 6:06PM
did not see it; don't watch football, don't use Nike products. They are so over priced, 2 dollars to make 180 dollars to buy.  no brainer
Aug 1, 2014 4:18PM
There's a really easy way to retaliate.  Stop buying Nike products, stop being slaves to sports played by people way way dumber than anyone you know.  Really - grown people thinking they're cool by just WATCHING a sport?  Creepy.
Aug 1, 2014 5:17PM

Holy Freaking Crap, NIKE!! Is that all you do sit around and worry about me being concerned about who dresses what Ball Team. "I don't pay any attention who dresses what team". That should set the Record straight and I really don't care. What do you think that I just get all tickled pink and say Oooo, Look, they're wearing NIKES! You got to be full of yourself. C'mon, he just a kid and you don't have to dress him so what do you care what he wears? I understand that during Games and Press events you have authority to dictate dress by contract. Your contract ends when it comes to the persons Family.

Aug 1, 2014 6:16PM
Nike should be in the thesaurus as a synonym for small-minded and petty.
Aug 1, 2014 5:11PM
I used to like nike.........then every one started wearing them and every team in any sport seems to be dominated by nike. I hate nike now and honestly i prefer Under Armor and Adidas as i like their designs better. I also think some of there stuff is cheaper and more comfortable. Sorry but for nike to get upset because not everyone is wearing there stuff is very ridiculous and very petty. Not to mention the fact that it was a nine-year old kid that they were getting upset over. Nike has offficaly lost my business!
Aug 1, 2014 6:37PM
I don't remember ever watching a game of any type and having a company's name or logo on a jersey register in my brain.  I couldn't care less if their jersey's were made by Vickie's Secret - I wouldn't even notice nor care.  I watch to see guys play ball - it ain't a f'in' fashion show.  Suck it Phil.
Aug 1, 2014 5:43PM
Aug 1, 2014 5:44PM
Aug 1, 2014 11:25PM
No one knew the shirt was not a Nike shirt. Until now.
Aug 1, 2014 7:07PM
Yeah... some of the same crap going on with Utah State University.  Had a perfectly good Mascot, trademarked for circa 3 million dollars, and suddenly we have this ugly sleek looking bull from Nike, and all the university apparel now has to have Nike on it and costs three times as much as the perfectly good mascot we had.  And they wonder why the "Poor College students aren't buying it"  Nor are the Alumni coming back to purchase apparel like they did in the past.
Aug 1, 2014 4:40PM

"It was more just a joke to us. It wasn't Nike being the big bad wolf telling a kid what to wear."


And, it was most likely a joke to the guy from Nike.


Odds are this is just some dill hole reporter picking a line from an email, knowing that out of context it will cause controversy.

Aug 4, 2014 10:48AM
How about these teams start wearing products that are MADE IN AMERICA.
Aug 4, 2014 8:19AM

here is 10 million dollar idea for Nike. I'll expect a check in the mail. lol!


your ana American company. Bring back some of the manufacturing to the U.S. Get up to speed on current day clothing sizing. And the biggiest of all, do someting with the NFL jerseys - undersized, cheap rubber logo's, cheap material jersey. Reebok had a better fit, sewn and screened on logo's / numbers that would wear good, nice vented mesh jersey that also lasted. The Nike jersey is the type that will snag and get pulls and the rubber logo's will start cracking. Cheaply made, overpriced, wanting you to buy over and over

Aug 4, 2014 9:16AM
ZERO consumers realized what brand the kid was wearing; 100% of readers of this article realize that the dumb a$$ from Nike that sent the message and DREW attention to the shirt should lose his job.
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