Nike & Nostalgia: The Art of the Reboot

On February 13, 2014, Nike released the Mercurial Vapor IX Fast Forward ’02 Edition, a tribute to Ronaldo’s unforgettable performance throughout the 2002 World Cup in Korea & Japan.  It was a defining moment for the legend during which he positioned himself among the all-time greats, scoring eight goals, and leading Brazil to a fifth world title.   It’s the second time this year that Nike have reached into the vault to honor Ronaldo Fenômeno, the first occasion being the release of 1,998 pairs of the Mercurial IX Special Edition’s.


courtesy Nike Instagram

From an outsider’s perspective, it appears that the success of products like the 1998’s and the Tiempo ‘94’s, has driven the more-widely available 2002’s.  The Tiempo’s, rereleased in extremely limited quantities in 2009, commemorated the ’94 World Cup and a few legends that donned them, namely Maldini and Romario.  The combined demand and exclusivity surrounding the release caused pairs of the boots to elude the grasp of even some within the inner circle at Nike Soccer headquarters in Oregon.  All in all, Nike’s execution represents a very rare operational strategy in the world of soccer, one which capitalizes on the nostalgic appeal consumers have for a golden era of design for soccer apparel, which developed through the widespread sharing of data through avenues like the Internet, genius soccer commercials, and EuroSport catalogs delivered to any soccer player’s mailbox, free of charge.  This helped create a following for soccer design in a way that had not been seen to this degree before in the world.  The bottom line is this: manufacturers of soccer apparel stand to increase and diversify their revenue streams by tapping into the nostalgic market for soccer goods, particularly items that were introduced between the mid 90’s and early 00’s.

The root of this opportunity exists within target markets and the respective buying behaviors of soccer consumers.  The first, and most obvious target market, is composed of young athletes, aged 12 – 21, who use soccer products at a variety of rates.  At the lower end you have a young group with a smaller income, and minimal to little input on the pair of cleats and gear to use, depending on the household’s income and spending habits.  College age athletes, who have both a larger budget and a much heavier weighted level of input into the buying decision, represent the opposite side of the spectrum.  The purchase behavior of this demographic, both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between, is driven based on a split of both need and product appeal.  It also represents a significant amount of the buyers and revenue on which companies rely.

The second target market, one which has never existed in the soccer world in the same way until now, is populated by amateur and recreational athletes.  The weekend leaguers, the pickup gamers in the park, basically any guy who never made it, but loves to play and be a part of the game when he’s not making a living, can be considered part of this group.  The age range varies, but for the most part, falls between 21 and 35.  This sector of the market is the equivalent of the “baby-boomers” for the soccer market, with regards to the explosion of content and soccer marketing that was facilitated through avenues like the Internet, where Nike and Adidas hosted interactive media on their websites to complement a campaign and build a buzz around their products, in ways that never before existed, or could exist.  This demographic grew up with all the great campaigns –Airport ’98, the Cage, Footballitis, Good vs. Evil, the Pepsi Western – these are all memories to this generation that accompany iconic pieces like the ’98 Predators, the Tricolore, the ’00 Italy jerseys, or any of the items noted here, here, or here.  There is a genuine opportunity for products in this category, particularly within this demographic, which, despite a decrease in usage, still has an appreciation and need for soccer gear, and the economic means to splurge on a product that is more than practical, but a symbol of glory days playing high school ball, or kicking it around in the park. This market, combined with the larger market of younger, more need-based consumers, can drive sales up from a place previously unexplored.  The former consumer segment will buy based on a combination of nostalgia and need – the latter, younger generation will buy based on a combination of need and the appreciation of great design.  On paper, it makes sense and succeeded across multiple sporting markets, best exemplified by the Jordan brand.

The Jordan brand consistently capitalizes on the nostalgic feelings for timeless, quality design, to drive a significant portion of their business.  Each year, the company releases limited quantities of Jordan’s, originally debuting in the 80s or 90s.  Last year, the Jordan III, MJ’s sneakers worn in the ’88 dunk contest while leaping from the foul line, were rereleased in limited quantities, and listed at $200.  They sold out within minutes, then reappeared on eBay for markups in the 100%+ range.  The Jordan brand manages to generate a buzz around a product, charge a serious markup, and continuously maintain an image of exclusivity.  It’s more or less the strategy that presents a game plan for Nike, Adidas, and any other companies looking to expand and diversify their revenue streams through nostalgic apparel; capitalize on the success of the past by updating a classic, iconic piece with modern technology and specifications, while maintaining the aesthetic integrity of the original.

It is precisely what’s happened with the newest Vapors.  Nike chose an iconic piece from the past, in this case, a memorable pair of chrome boots Ronaldo wore during his most defining moment as a player.  They maintained the theme of the boot, applied it to the latest version, and made a masterpiece that made a splash on social media and with retailers.  The same can, and should happen with all sorts of soccer apparel using the same formula: take a classic, update/modernize the technology, market it, and deliver to consumers.  The chart below highlights a few opportunities for rereleases that could bring in additional revenue for major sporting goods companies in the soccer market:

Cunha Nike Table

There are some unfortunate challenges; for example, the consistently impressive Adidas France kits, for which the outfitting contract has since changed hands.  I’m not privy to contractual obligations, but I’m assuming any sort of Adidas France jersey is out of the question for the time being.  There are also a number of classic club shirts, which would also attract a significant volume of buyers, but would face challenges through the sponsors across the front of the jerseys.  Nevertheless, the opportunity is there for international jerseys, cleats, and other apparel.

Will Nike continue on their streak of trying to cash in on some of their more popular products from the past?  They should.  The market is there, evidenced by the success of these products, or eBay, where vintage Predators will run you £350 ($580).  It’s also demonstrated by sites like Classic Football Shirts, which sell vintage jerseys and apparel.  You might buy that ’94 Denim Kit USA Jersey, but it will actually fit and look like you’re in the year 1994 – a key difference in the proposed idea.  They are selling the original product, oftentimes used, and at a premium, considering they have to cover their acquisition cost of the novelty item.  In our proposition, manufactures would sell a modern classic, with the premium optional depending on operational preference and desired product perception.

The 90’s and early 00’s brought the soccer world some outstanding design, in mediums that were previously nonexistent or unexplored in the market.  It will be interesting to see if Nike follows-up on their latest approach of holding onto the past, or if other brands join in.  For nostalgia’s sake, I’ve got my fingers crossed.


What do you think about Nike’s “Reboot” strategy? Let us know in the comments section below, or via Facebook or Twitter.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.