Charlie Denson, president of the Nike brand, traveled to the SportAccord convention in Quebec City to deliver a keynote address Wednesday that underlined the sportswear giant’s desire to broaden its ties with the Olympic movement.
“We’ve always focused on the athlete,” Denson said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The misperception might be that we don’t spend time with the federations or the organizing committees or things like that. This is an opportunity at this event to engage with them more directly on a broader scale.”
Nike has dozens of agreements with national and international governing bodies, including federations in China, Brazil, Russia and Qatar. The U.S. Olympic basketball and track and field teams that will compete at the London Games also are backed by Nike.
“We look at the Summer Games as one of the biggest opportunities we have to introduce new products and technologies,” Benson said.
While Adidas is an official sponsor of the London Olympics, Denson confirmed Nike is interested in becoming the sponsor for Rio in 2016, the first Olympics in South America. Brazil will also host the 2014 World Cup.
“We don’t have anything in place yet and we never comment on ongoing conversations,” Denson said. “We have great relationships in Brazil. We’re always interested in whatever types of relationships we can engage in. At the end of the day, (a deal can be done) if it works for everybody, and we come to a mutual set of agreement and expectations.”
This summer, the London Olympics will provide a high-profile battleground for the rivalry between Nike, Adidas, Puma and other shoe manufacturers. While Adidas is the official sponsor, Nike will be highly visible through its own sponsored athletes and teams. Nike also has a big retail store in the giant Westfield shopping center on the edge of the Olympic Park where thousands of spectators will pass through every day during the games.
While the brand competition sometimes leads to accusations of ambush marketing, Denson said Nike stays within the rules.
“We take advantage of our opportunities where we have them and in some cases we may create new ones,” he said. “We feel very comfortable and confident that we can stand on the merits of what we do within the rules and the guidelines that have been set out by the IOC or the local organizing committees.
“Sometimes there’s quite a bit of gray area in some of the rules and we try to interpret them the best we can.”
On dealing with Nike athletes found guilty of doping or other offenses, Denson said the company handles each case separately.
“Athletes are human beings as well,” he said. “They just unfortunately get to make their mistakes on the world stage or in the public domain. We treat everything on an individual basis. Every situation comes with its own set of circumstances and nuances.”