A good example of a positive instigator (dot #3934) can be found in Sonny Vaccaro whose story is told in the movie Air. Sonny was responsible for expanding Nike’s influence in basketball and identifying players to sign endorsement deals.

This was the situation in 1984: Nike held only 17% of the basketball sneaker market, behind industry leaders Converse and Adidas. Michael Jordan had never played an NBA game. The NBA had rules requiring 51% of player shoes to be white. Players never had a shoe designed for them, nor did any athlete receive revenue sharing for a product line they endorsed.

Yet, Sonny became a champion instigator to save the fledgling Nike basketball division from being closed down (as was under serious consideration). He fought to concentrate 100% of the advertising money on one player. He went to Jordan’s home to speak with his mother when Jordan’s agent wouldn’t arrange a meeting. He enlisted the support of Jordan’s former coach (George Raveling) to give credibility to Nike. He and two others spent the weekend at HQ designing a prototype of the first Air Jordan. Sonny did an audible during the scripted presentation to the Jordans and infused an emotional appeal that changed the situation, then forwarded Mrs. Jordan’s revolutionary demand that Michael would share in the revenue of sales.

We know the end of the story — Air Jordan now is an entire division at Nike with $4 billion in annual sales. If Nike had followed convention, they would have split their 1984 advertising funds to sign three players that would have had less impact than a dunk shot.

It seems obvious now that Michael Jordan would be a mega-star and Air Jordans would be a hit, but at the time it was a huge gamble for Nike and would not have happened without Sonny Vaccaro’s instigation. He changed not only the business but the entire sports marketing game with his passion and persistence.

What project in your organization is worthy of the grit required to be an instigator? Maybe the person who becomes its champion should be you.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: