PORTLAND, OR—In a move that added the world's pre-eminent equine athlete to its stable of endorsers Tuesday, Nike signed Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Big Brown to a seven-year, $80 million endorsement contract that included a $10 million signing bonus as well as the creation of a signature horseshoe, the Air Brown.
"Nike is ecstatic to sign the top star in horseracing," CEO and Nike president Mike Parker said, unveiling the "jumphorse" logo as the Kentucky-bred colt trotted onstage. "From Michael Jordan to Tiger Woods, Nike has created formidable partnerships with the very best in sports. I can't say how proud we are to work with B.B., who is an extraordinary individual both on and off the track."
"Big B doesn't complain when he gets the far outside starting gate position," Parker added. "He just gallops. And he gives hope to everyone out there that if they train hard, push themselves, and keep their snout clean, they can accomplish anything."
Big Brown, whose Nike endorsement deal is the largest ever for a thoroughbred, was flown from New York to Portland in a private Nike jet stocked with the world's finest bourbon, caviar, sugar cubes, cigars, carrots, and hay. Upon arriving on the west coast, the equine superstar's handlers whisked him past a throng of cheering fans into a stretch limousine bound for Nike headquarters, where Brown, his 11-horse entourage, and his team of lawyers reviewed the contract one last time before signing.
Slated for release on June 1, the lightweight, U-shaped Air Brown horseshoe features Nike's patented air-cushioning system, consisting of a pressurized gas encapsulated in polyurethane and aluminum. According to Nike engineers, the innovative technology was created to provide equal measures of comfort, support, and performance on both dirt and grass tracks by reducing shock, distributing pressure, and protecting the hooves from overpronation. Big Brown intends to debut the Air Brown horseshoes on June 7 at the Belmont Stakes, when he attempts to become the first horse to win the elusive Triple Crown in 30 years.
Although Big Brown was approached by a number of suitors from sportswear manufacturers including Adidas, Reebok, and Pony, the undefeated 3-year-old was ultimately won over by Nike's willingness to work closely with him to create a horseshoe conforming to his strong sense of personal style as well as his physical needs. Big Brown was reportedly impressed by Nike's efforts when technicians used cameras to record his gait from multiple angles while he ran on a treadmill.
"Because Big Brown's hooves have been prone to injuries, we created 3D computer models to map out their exact size and shape in order to design a customized horseshoe that fits perfectly," Nike technician Kenneth Phillips said. "We've also determined he can reduce the risk of impact injuries during his workouts by exercising on a quartet of stationary elliptical machines."
Nike marketing personnel said that throughout the design process, Big Brown has viewed his trademark sportswear as a lifestyle rather than a line of products bearing his image. Whether approving design sketches or choosing materials, the racehorse has emphasized the promotion of individual identity by insisting the Air Brown buyer should be able to customize their horseshoes with alternate color schemes, optional blinking LEDs, or Swarovski crystals.
"B-Squared brings a lot of energy to this project—you should see him cantering around in a frenzy, ranging back and forth in the studio space," Parker said. "He's really exposing a side of himself that many people haven't seen before. He's showing everyone that he's for real."
While some critics have insinuated that Big Brown is too young and lacks experience, Parker confirmed his company's confidence in the colt's potential when he pointed out that the racehorse is undefeated in all five of his career starts and yet still takes time to volunteer in the community.
"We signed Jordan when he was just a rookie and brought LeBron on before he even played in the NBA," Parker said. "Those guys turned out great. Well, B.B. is like three Kobe Bryants, two LaDainian Tomlinsons, and an Alex Rodriguez all rolled up in one. "
"Big B might be an upstanding citizen, but he's totally rock 'n' roll," Parker added. "You never know if he's going to come out of the gate with a green, purple, natural, or orange mane."
Despite being overwhelmed with pre-orders of Air Browns, Nike has maintained that Big Brown's new casual line, the B2 Titanium HorseNeaks, would be available for purchase in August.