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Show Me da Money, Marion!

by JEFF BALLINGER

Hard to believe that you could burn through all that sweat-stained endorsement cash. I guess that you really can’t scrimp on “stonewalling” lawyers when you’ve been fibbing to the feds.

Track and field athletes used to be like Burmese monks–dependent on alms. Is it really any wonder that performance-enhancing drugs appeared about the same time as image-enhancing TV ads?

I can also remember when universities did no deals with sports shoe companies. Is it another coincidence that the money really started to flow when shoe companies shifted production from ‘merely low-wage’ locales like S. Korea and Taiwan to super-exploitation sites in China and Indonesia? Hard to argue with the strategy from a business point of view; I once counted 37 swooshes in photos in a single USA Today sports section. One university sports official called it “almost unfathomable” that Adidas is giving $7.5 million a year to the University of Michigan (snatching it from Nike). This was actually part of a macho bidding war started by Nike when it offered $103 million per year to Germany’s national soccer team. They retained Adidas for a mere $70 mil./yr.

Adidas is feeling flush after gobbling up Reebok last year – making that “human rights” poseur, Paul Fireman, a billionaire. The German shoe giant bragged recently that the acquisition increased the company’s leverage with suppliers. In plain language, that means lower prices paid to factories and more pain for workers.

What Nike offered the German team was nearly the entire “international marketing” budget for the shoe giant just 15 years ago. It helps when compliant (desperate?) dictators will freeze the minimum wage for 10 years, as happened in Vietnam (1996-2006). Eighty percent of expensive sport shoes are now made in one-party states.

Back to Marion Jones: Nike likes strong women , right? That depends. Brave women who’ll stand up to brutal shoe contractors get sacked, just detritus along the global commodity chain roadside.

There is a word for this ‘greed-on-steroids’ business model: ruthless. The word was used to describe the father of the sports agent business in his 2003 obituary. He was “ruthless” in getting Tiger Woods or Derek Jeter all that they could get from Nike (sports agents get 20% of endorsement deals, but only around 3% of player’s contracts with sports clubs).

“Show me da money!”

JEFF BALLINGER’s book, “Protests and the Corporate Response; Tiananmen to Seattle” will be published by the University of Pisa this Winter. He is a co-founder of No Sweat Apparel. He can be reached at: jeffreyd@mindspring.com

 

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