Adidas vs. Nike: A Global Power Struggle Hinged on the World Cup

Last week, Business of Soccer broke down the official FIFA World Cup Sponsors, explaining the differences between the three tiers of partnership available to would-be brands.

Read: FIFA World Cup Sponsors: Who Are They?

This week, we examine the two biggest brands in soccer, Adidas and Nike, within the digital realm and how it will impact their presence going into the World Cup in Brazil. Adidas is a top-tier “FIFA Partner”, which means that they partner with the world’s soccer governing body all year-round, regardless of whether or not it is a World Cup year or not. According to a recent article from Analytic Partners, FIFA anticipates that it will generate $1.4 billion in sponsorship revenue from twenty-two different companies from the 2014 World Cup. Of that $1.4 billion, it is estimated that the six FIFA Partner status companies will contribute $783 million, or 56% of the total. Assuming equal contributions to this total from each of the six official FIFA Partners, the 2014 World Cup will cost Adidas about $130.5 million in FIFA sponsorship alone.

Both Nike and Adidas have an impressive digital presence, and both have been leading the soccer industry with regard to viral campaign marketing. The two brands are constantly vying for the coveted top spot, which Adidas has held for some time. But how do they stack up against each other on the top social media platforms?


AvN WC SM Twitter

WC SM AvN Instagram





WC SM AvN YouTube









*All social media figures obtained from Adidas Football/Soccer and Nike Football/Soccer official accounts on 6/3, other than YouTube provided by AdWeek.

Though Adidas beats Nike in 2 of 5 platforms in terms of followers, Nike’s +36 million Facebook followers shoot it well past Adidas in terms of overall social media followers with 40.02 million, compared to Adidas’ 19.86 million. Though their numbers differ, the platform driving the majority of their social media strategy continues to be overwhelmingly evident in Facebook’s numbers in terms of the platforms contribution to the brand’s total social media following, both roughly at 89%.

Adidas SM Breakdown WC

Nike SM Breakdown WC






Adidas, though it only has about 50% of the total social media reach that Nike does, at least on these five platforms, does have the major advantage of being an official FIFA partner going into the World Cup in the battle for the top spot in soccer – or is it a major advantage?

The 2010 World Cup saw from Nike one of the more brilliant and more successful campaigns in recent history with its “Write the Future” initiative. To put into perspective just how successful Nike was, several reports have quoted Nielsen data from the 2010 World Cup that indicated that Nike was more talked about online in reference to the World Cup than ANY of FIFA’s official sponsors for the tournament. Even though Nike was not an official tournament sponsor, it forced its way into the World Cup conversation with “Write the Future”, driven largely by social media and viral marketing tactics.

So far in the final months leading up to the World Cup it appears that Nike has a solid foothold in the social media world just as it did in 2010. Its “Risk Everything”, “Whatever It Takes”, and “Dare to be Brazilian” videos have seen a lot of attention throughout the various digital platforms and one can be sure to see more of the same in the coming days before and during the World Cup. And because no marketing campaign is complete without a digital/social component in today’s market, Adidas has come with its share of original content as well, flexing the “all in or nothing” message, which was seen last summer more geared towards the launch of new club team kits, to work into the World Cup and highlighting the Brazuca, the official World Cup match ball, and the brand’s “Battle Pack” set of boots in several videos.

In a world where profitability pressures are in many cases at an all time high, a strong return on investment has never been more important for marketers to achieve. In the sports marketing world, this is something that is always tricky to calculate with 100% accuracy, and is variable by case as with most everything. Without knowing exact cost figures from Nike’s “Write the Future” World Cup campaign from four years ago, it is very difficult to assess ROI for the initiative. However, we can not ignore the massive success Nike saw from the 2010 campaign and what they were able to achieve without the level of sponsorship tied specifically to the World Cup than its rival Adidas had.

Social media is but one component in what is a vastly complex and comprehensive marketing strategy and plan for both Nike and Adidas for the World Cup. One has to wonder though, if Nike was able to achieve such success without the FIFA partnership, is it really worth it for Adidas to shell out the $130.5 million to align itself with FIFA for the World Cup? Might it be better served to repurpose those funds to other marketing tactics that might drive greater results? Or, is it that Adidas is well aware of the potential for the $130.5 million very well could be better used elsewhere, but the risk of letting Nike in the door to replace them at FIFA’s table is too great of a risk and far more to their detriment than shelling out the cash for not quite the return that the company’s finance department would like to see? Sometimes, a “spend to defend” strategy can be very effective and can often be the best option for many brands, however, it is not sustainable for the long-term. How Adidas and Nike are able to work their respective social media networks for the World Cup will be very telling for the future of the dynamic between these two brands in global football moving forward.


What do you think about Adidas and Nike’s social media presence and World Cup marketing strategies? Let us know in the comments section below, or via Facebook or Twitter.


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