After more than two decades, John Capriotti is stepping down as leader of Nike’s track and field sports marketing group.
“John is going into the consulting business,” said Steve Miller, a former Nike executive and the man who hired Capriotti at the company.
The fiery former track coach still worked for the sneaker giant as of Friday. But he is leaning toward a consulting deal that would make Nike one of his clients, according to a second source close to Capriotti.
News of the change had the track and field world buzzing on Friday.
“It’s kind of unbelievable,” said a third source, a prominent sports agent. “He’s been in that position for the entire 21 years I’ve been around track and field. He’s been the single most influential person in the sport.”
Neither Capriotti nor Nike could immediately be reached for comment.
Capriotti’s decision comes as Nike is cutting costs and laying off employees. The company lost about $790 million last quarter.
Since Nike brought in John Donahoe as its new CEO and chairman in January, there has been speculation about the ramifications for the company’s sports marketing arm, and for its track and field operations in particular. Donahoe’s athletic background is unknown. But outsiders speculate that the longtime technology executive does not share the passion for track and field of his predecessors Phil Knight and Mark Parker.
Under Capriotti’s watch, Nike solidified its position as the sport’s superpower. It hired more track athletes to endorsement contracts than any other sponsor. It also bankrolled USA Track & Field, the sport’s governing body in this country, signing a sponsorship in 2014 worth more than $400 million.
Nike sponsored three different teams of elite runners, all of them based in Oregon. Its audacious goal was to make American runners once again competitive with the rest of the world.
Capriotti and Nike also helped secure Eugene’s position as one of the world capitals of the sport. He was such a fixture at Hayward Field that his customary spot in the grandstands became known as Cap’s Corner.
The stunning decision to award the 2021 track and field world championships to Eugene came in part because of the enthusiastic support of Knight and Nike. The coronavirus pandemic has delayed the running of those championships in Eugene until 2022.
There was also plenty of controversy. Alberto Salazar was Nike’s superstar coach for the Nike Oregon Project. But Salazar was dogged for years by allegations that he encouraged his athletes to use banned substances. He was banned from the sport for four years “for orchestrating and facilitating prohibited doping conduct.”
Nike sided with Salazar and continued to back him even after the ban, which Salazar is appealing.