Nike: Go London!
By Jane Beathard
That London clocktower you see on television during the upcoming summer Olympic games might not be Big Ben. It just might be the Madison County Courthouse.
Depending on the viewpoint, the best (or worst) kept secret in London history is that representatives of Nike, the shoe and sportwear company, were in town during the first week of June, filming a commercial to air during the Olympics.
It’s all part of a promotional campaign to capture the spirit of various cities named London throughout the United States and Canada, as compared with their original namesake in England — site of the upcoming games.
A crew of 30 filmed around town and, most specifically, at London High School. Students, faculty and parents served as “extras” for the sports sequences and received small stipends of about $150 for their efforts.
London schools treasurer Kristine Blind said the district received $5,000 for use of the gym, football field and other facilities.
Safety-services director Steve Hume said some scenes were shot in the fire department and with city police officers on South Main Street. A road outside of town was also a locale, as was a pool complex on Keny Boulevard.
Blind said the project started small, then grew as the film crew and their California and Canadian-based handlers became more enthralled with London’s hometown atmosphere.
The exact theme and story line of the commercial remains a mystery, but filmmakers were highly complimentary of the town, its citizens and what they saw through their viewfinders, both Hume and Blind said.
Everyone involved was sworn to secrecy as Nike sought to confound its sportswear competition and avoid any chance of “copycat-ism.” Fears that Nike would pull the commercial before it ever saw the light of a TV screen kept the word “mum.”
Hints did leak out on a few Facebook pages and there were whispers among school faculty and supporters.
It’s tough for a few thousand people to keep one secret.
“When first contacted by Nike’s production studio early in May, they were requesting photos and information about communities named London in the United States and Canada,” said Sean Hughes, executive director of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce.”
“As a convention and visitors’ bureau, we jumped into action and sent them an electronic packet to attract them to our community. A week later, Pat Riley, their very tired location scout who had been driving from one desolate location to another, descended on to our town. He first stopped at London City Schools and worked with Mr. Ben to make sure they had London on their uniforms and that they would be willing to work with the studio.
“Afterward, Mr. Riley spent the afternoon with us trying to figure out the best possible locales for shoots. Later that night, we received a call from a very excited Mr. Riley as he was driving to London, Kentucky. (Which we also sent him to, but he had never heard of it!) In closing our conversation, he promised that he would be back in a week with a film crew.
“Just as he said, the very next week, we received a phone call that he and the production team were in town and that they needed our help. We did the research, provided community contacts for sites and the city, gave advice when needed and scouted some locations for them and buying supplies. After nearly a week and many more hours of film than they had taken anywhere else, they packed up, thanked us and headed back to California. We even found a security team to watch their equipment as they stayed at one of our local hotels.
“Yes, they spent a lot of money while here eating, sleeping and buying additional supplies. After nearly a week and many more hours of film than they had taken anywhere, they packed up, thanked us, and headed back. Mr. Riley was thrilled with our community and had even scouted some potential thing for another commercial while he was here. I thank the schools, the community, the fire department, the police and the sheriff’s department for the huge support they provided. I think our coordination and collaboration put us on the map and we’ll see other great things to come from it. Now, as a CVB, we have to figure out how to use that for increased tourism.
“We had a great deal of fun working with them.
“Oh yeah, we also make the London, England connection for them communicating that the English city planner, who helped design London, copied a London, England burrough. He really liked that some of the local businesses had English names such as Piccadillies and encouraged us to continue with that theme in the city.”