How Nike Plans to Follow Up Its ‘Bo Knows Baseball’ TV Ad


Can Nike top Bo?

Just about everyone knows the “Bo Knows Baseball” TV commercial for Nike. It features dual sports star Bo Jackson testing his skills at everything from playing hockey with Wayne Gretzky to strumming guitar with Bo Diddley. On Tuesday, production crews were in Los Angeles filming Nike’s follow-up ad that will premiere Jan. 28, during the Super Bowl telecast on CBS.

Jackson is in this commercial too. But the ad is not Bo II. This time, he not only shares the spotlight with the likes of Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Curtis Strange and John McEnroe, but also with some of the top-name broadcasters for each of their professional sports. Among these announcers are ABC’s Al Michaels, CBS’ Pat Summerall and Marv Albert of NBC.

The commercial--which will be dotted with quick cuts from athletes to announcers--will trace the combined flight of a baseball, football, basketball, golf ball, tennis ball and hockey puck. The ad, which will show each athlete at the peak of performance, will also show many of the stars at the height of their anger. McEnroe, for example, throws his racket to the ground in disgust. And Jordan argues heatedly with a referee.


At the same time, each of the sports announcers will say one word to complete the sentence “I have never, ever seen anything like it.” Some observers say this “Just Do It” corporate ad for Nike may be one of the most complex, costly--and entertaining--sports commercials in years.

“When something really great happens in a sport, everyone somehow becomes a part of it--even the announcers,” said Joe Pytka, who is directing the commercial for Nike, and who directed the popular “Bo Knows Baseball” ad.

On Tuesday morning, the tennis portion of the commercial that features McEnroe was filmed at the Los Angeles Tennis Club. In an interview following the filming of his portion of the commercial, McEnroe admitted he’s no Bo--but he also said that Bo’s no McEnroe, either.

“In America, football is a much bigger sport. I can’t fight against that,” said McEnroe. “Sure, it can be frustrating, but I’m much better known in places like Europe, South America and Japan. In 10 years, I wonder how much they’ll be saying about Bo.”


Recently, a Nike billboard on Hollywood Boulevard that features a picture of McEnroe was replaced by an illustration of Bo Jackson--stretching a bat behind a pair of shoulder pads that he is wearing. “My poster was on that spot for four or five years,” said McEnroe. “But Bo’s not a bad guy to be replaced by.”

With this campaign, Nike is clearly swinging for the fences. Nike officials will not reveal the cost of the latest ad, but advertising executives estimate that production costs alone could exceed $1 million. At the same time, broadcast media buyers say that 60 seconds of commercial time on this year’s Super Bowl costs about $1.2 million.

“The Super Bowl is the most important TV event there is,” said Pytka, moments before filming McEnroe on the courts. Pytka estimates that he and his crew will spend 100 to 150 hours filming and editing this ad. “After all,” posed Pytka, “What’s bigger than the Super Bowl?”

Not much. In fact, the TV show with the most viewers in history was the 1986 Super Bowl between Chicago and New England. Last year’s Super Bowl had about 110 million viewers. That’s why a number of companies have already announced major campaigns that will break during the Super Bowl.

Budweiser has already said it plans to broadcast the “Bud Bowl II"--a series of animated ads that, for the second year in a row, will pit the Bud Light camp against the Budweiser brigade. Meanwhile, Miller Brewing Co. has signed “Night Court’s” popular bald bailiff, Richard Moll, to appear in a series of ads with a Super Bowl theme for Miller Lite. Even Nissan has created a costly Super Bowl commercial that features a car being chased by a jet bomber.

Super Bowl aside, Nike has plenty at stake with its latest campaign. Since the “Bo” ad campaign began, sales of Nike’s “Cross Trainer” brand of shoes have rocketed. And one industry analyst recently projected in a trade publication that Nike will overtake Reebok in U.S. athletic footwear sales by the end of this year. While Reebok has continued to struggle to develop a consistent image, Nike has closely linked itself to a handful of the top-performing and best-known athletes in country.

The writer who created the “Bo” campaign--and who also wrote the Super Bowl ad--said he is already feeling the pressure for his newest creation to be a success. “Everyone keeps asking me, ‘How are you going to top the ‘Bo’ ad?’ ” said Jim Riswold, associate creative director at the Portland ad agency Wieden & Kennedy. “If this one works out, I don’t know how I’ll top it. Maybe I’ll become a monk.”