Image from Sneaker Bar Detroit
Kyrie Irving was recently seen on Instagram airing his displeasure with Nike for attempting to release a design of his signature shoe (Kyrie 8), calling them “Trash” and apologizing to fans and sneakerheads alike in advance of the drop. He also stated that he had no part in the design or the marketing of the sneakers and Nike does in fact plan to release them without his approval and “regardless of what [he] says.”
This is unlike Nike, who generally respects its signature athletes to a high degree. According to “Hoops Hype” a basketball fan forum, signature deals are given to elite players and in these types of deals, a brand will give the athlete a sneaker to create and ultimately release (think of any Lebron or Kobe shoe for reference). Compensation aside, one big part of a signature deal is the balance of creative control between the brand and the athlete. Certainly, Nike granted Kyrie some degree of creative control, whether it be an approval process, or even coming up with the designs himself. This can be seen with all of his other models. The real question of that dispute is whether Nike retains the final say.
Legally speaking, there is more than likely a clause in the contract about promoting and otherwise not disparaging products of the collaboration between the athlete and the brand. As noted in another article, “Bryson DeChambeau: How Not To Treat A Sponsor,”
“It’s not very often that professional athletes get into feuds with their sponsors, but when they do, the remarks made by the athlete could have significant ramifications including termination of the sponsorship. Almost every athlete endorsement agreement has legal language covering this exact type of scenario. Brands want to protect themselves from paying an athlete a good amount of money to endorse their brand and then have the athlete turn around and disparage the brand.”
Certainly, Nike won’t get a kick out of Kyrie’s actions and if they really felt strongly enough about the action, could potentially pursue a breach of contract action. A breach of contract occurs when a party (or both) fails to fulfill its contractual obligations. Breaches can take two forms: 1) material, in which a party fails to fulfill an obligation as it pertains to a major part of the contract; or 2) immaterial, in which a party fails to fulfill an obligation as it pertains to a minor part of the contract. It is worth noting that the aggrieved party in a material breach might not have to fulfill its contractual obligations, while the inverse is true in the case of an immaterial breach. As the contract could very well contain a non-disparagement clause preventing Kyrie from speaking ill about any of the potential products or face a voided contract, Nike could potentially withhold payment or void the deal altogether, ending it right then and there. Without knowing the intricacies of the contract, it is difficult to speculate on just what sort of breach this is, but regardless, Nike, having been very lawsuit friendly as of late, might test the waters and see if it could bring a suit, and honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised.
While this is not related to any court proceeding, if what Kyrie says is true, it sounds like Nike is operating in bad faith. Giving an athlete a signature shoe, and not only refusing to change the design when he voices his opinion, but to proceed with plans to release the shoe is most definitely not a good look. As this just happened early in the day on July 28th, this is still ongoing. Hopefully, they get this worked out and Kyrie can avoid an unnecessary lawsuit, because really, who wants to go to court because they didn’t like the design of their signature shoe?