Feature

Why Nike just couldn’t do it in India

The legendary sports shoes giant has failed to make it big in India. Its multibillion rupee bet on cricket was just a bad one

Nike’s famous tagline ‘Just Do It’ has a gory history. The slogan writers were inspired by the last words of a man who was facing a firing squad, in the seventies, after committing double murder. It could be considered a brash move by a responsible company, the choice of these words. But the American multinational has built its brand through its association with sports. And, on the field, defiance is celebrated.

In India, Nike chose to ride the cricket frenzy. It paid big money to become the official kit sponsor, which was meant to help with branding and which gave it the apparel-merchandise licence. Then the company expanded its retail presence aggressively and settled down to collect the spoils. Only, the till didn’t ring as much. Indians may paint their faces, cry when the team wins or fly across borders to watch a match, but they still look at the price tag before buying shoes. The $36-billion Nike’s strategy — of riding into every market on the back of a sport — has failed badly in India.

Matt Powell Senior advisor - sports, NPD GroupThe company hadn’t registered a net profit since 2006, and last fiscal it broke that jinx with a modest Rs.76.7 million. Its revenue for 2019 was Rs.8.14 billion, a number that has virtually remained unchanged over the past four years. Today, Nike India has just 150 outlets after having shut down around 200, a scaling down that began in 2017. The company has no dedicated country head but one in Singapore who oversees the Asia Pacific and Latin America region. 

Outlook Business did send a detailed list of questions to Nike India. In an emailed response, the company said, “Nike does not comment on business for specific countries and we will not participate in this story.” So, we are on our own here, but thankfully we have former employees of the company, experts and analysts to help us construct a reliable picture.

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