Swoosh Man: Nike’s Very Own Superhero That Never Took Off
In the mid 90s, Nike was looking for a mascot to represent their brand decided to create their own superhero character as a mascot.
Nike’s contracts with its athletes were such that they could ask any athlete to make public appearances, promote products etc. in accordance to the performance clauses mentioned in the contracts. Nike felt that these athlete appearances were underutilized and to make sure that this does not happen, the company decided to produce huge events showcasing these formidable athletes. The company could sell tickets, customize merchandise, control television production and distribution deals, and choreograph every moment to be in total service of the brand. In the summer of 1996, Nike Sports Entertainment(NSE) came into existence.
The NSE team started working on sports themed events that would feature likes of Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Tiger Woods and Carl Lewis.
Mascots have always played an important role in sports. In the early days of NBA, very few teams had mascots. Mascots were considered a novelty back then, however, there was no doubt that good mascots had a magical effect on the crowd and the team's reputation. Nike also wanted a mascot, and Nike, being Nike, was not going to settle for something simple.
It was Ian Campbell, a former Olympic track and Field athelete and Nike veteran, who came up with the idea of Swoosh Man. In Los Angeles, a professional mascot was introduced to the costume designer who had created the suit for the Batman movie.
Swoosh would wear a sleek gray costume emblazoned with the Nike logo across a torso of pure muscle. Nike put in a lot of money to convert this idea into reality. They paid $125,000 for the suit and they bought 2 of them.
In the coming months, NSE staged amazing shows all over the globe. Events like track-and-field expos in Australia, soccer spectacles in Munich , and a travelling basketball show called Hoop Heroes featuring Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Jason Kidd, and other all-stars. There was one common factor in all of these events: Nike’s Swoosh Man. Swoosh’s first event was the Hoop Heroes show in Tokyo. In the Yokohama Center, in front of a sold out crowd, Swoosh performed his practiced dance routines, did trampoline assisted dunks and in between the stunts he marched around the court dribbling the ball in sync with the beats.
Although NSE was hosting these big events with Swoosh at the centre, Swoosh was not very well recognized. He definitely had a fan following but it was not as huge as NSE had imagined it would be. These humongous events were expensive and it was a known fact that the money that these events were bringing in was way less than what was being spent on them.
In 1997, there was a sudden fall in shoe sales owing to the Asian financial crisis. This led to wave of cuts within the company. In the summer of 1997, NSE was shutdown overnight. Most of the team was either let go or reassigned within the company. This marked the end of Nike's Swoosh Man. A tragic case of being way too early to a market that didn't know what hit it. Given the resurgence of superhero movies and the significance that they hold for a whole generation, it'd be a whole different ball game if Swoosh Man was introduced or re-introduced in 2020.