17 September 2007

Nike and the NFL Co-Opt One of Soccer's Great Attractions

Nike's most recent advertisement for their football related products is a stunning piece of work. I'm sure someone will post a link to YouTube in the comments (Please? It's blocked where I'm at). The ad is a stunning triumph of clever editing, CGI and other effects, and orchestration. Playing like one really long cinematic take, the ad opens with San Diego Charger Shawne Merriman leveling a ball carrier, only to promptly get up, continue running up the field, and level another. And another, and another, while the teams and weather change around him. Ultimately he levels a quarterback just after the ball is pitched to St. Louis half-back Stephen Jackson. Now the motion is reversed, and Stephen Jackson hurtles over would-be tacklers, or fights through would be defenders, spinning and dancing his way towards the end-zone where he's met by a group of five Steelers. The commercial ends with him stretching out his arms to break the plane of the goal line, and the Nike Swoosh with the slogan "LEAVE NOTHING" appears.

The ad is simply brilliant. Beautiful, stirring, inspiring, jaw-dropping... all of that. But even when I saw it for the first time, something nagged at me. And that something is this: It's a big lie.

The thing about football, which I was recently reminded of with the start of a new NFL Season, is that the actual action is ten seconds and then a break when the teams huddle up. Then five more seconds, and another break for thirty seconds. It's a choppy, awkward affair, like a poorly directed Pinter play, not the continuous fluid movement that the Nike ad gives us. The motion that the Nike ad shows is more like, well, soccer, than anything else. A football player will spring fifty yards and trot to the sidelines for oxygen. A left back will sprint fifty yards and then have to reverse directions and sprint back fifty yards to cover the counter-attack.

The clever thing Nike has done is repackage football in the tempo of soccer. And that, well, bothers me for some reason. It's not the misrepresentation, it's the feeling that one of the things that makes this sport special -- it's consistent, fluid action -- is being stolen for sport that doesn't deserve it. I like pointy-ball. It's discrete battles, it's overarching strategy, it can be fun to watch them play out. But it isn't about what Nike purports it to show. If that's the kind of action you want, watch soccer.

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At 17 September, 2007 16:26, Blogger Charles said...

I don't think I ever watched a sporting game start to finish until World Cup 1994. Before that I wasn't really any sort of sports fan. The pacing of pointy-ball and baseball would drive me nuts. It's only the intense continuous non-stop play of soccer I have any patience for.
I'm sort of coming around to being a football fan. But again after a summer of watching soccer I sat down to watch a football game. I saw the kickoff and everything was fine but then bam! first commercial break and I just groaned in my head and thought here we go again.

At 17 September, 2007 16:31, Blogger D said...

Charles -- My wife is a pretty avid football fans (steelers and redskins). So we've been watching our share of NFL games, and this season I've been awful: Just like you, groaning at almost every commercial interruption. And I like football, I really do. I just couldn't help myself after a nice summer of soccer. That she hasn't killed me yet is a tribute to her patience.

At 17 September, 2007 16:41, Blogger tucksider said...

here's the ad.

i've got to agree that that looks very little like American football, and a lot more like a 1-minute ballet about American football. for one thing, the tackles in the first half look ridiculously choreographed.

it doesn't look to me like Nike is specifically trying to appeal to soccer fans or anything... unlike ESPN's "You're a fan, you just don't know it yet" ads for MLS.

At 17 September, 2007 16:47, Blogger D said...

Thanks tucksider for the link. I agree that they're not marketing it to soccer fans, but I will still say that the ad's premise shows a game that is more like soccer than football is in terms of the tempo of its actions.

At 19 September, 2007 12:04, Blogger EdTheRed said...

Dude...love ya man, but they didn't co-opt soccer. The entire commercial is an NFL-remake of the climactic scene in Last of the Mohicans (the Michael Mann/Daniel Day Lewis version). Right down to the score, which is actually from that scene in the film.


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