Many describe this World Cup as the best they’ve ever seen. Having seen four prior and really only been actively watching and experiencing three of those four, I find myself inclined to agree that personally, this World Cup has been the most entertaining tournament that I’ve ever watched. The story lines, the drama, and the emotions that were on display will live on in the recesses of our memory, to be retrieved during bouts of nostalgic reminiscence.
Here at Business of Soccer we are of course, above anything else, fans of the beautiful game, but beyond that we appreciate that this sport also has massive financial and marketing possibilities and as the tournament has progressed, we have tracked the performance of brands, surveyed the state of apparel home and away kit design, and assessed the economic impact on Brazil. These are story lines that for some are equally as intriguing as the on field performances.
One such story line that is in fact intertwined with the on field results and contributes to brand performance at the World Cup is the evolving state of apparel manufacturers partnered with national teams. As is the case with competition, eventually one winner is crowned while the rest return home with nothing but their performances in hand. With each team that was eliminated, we decided to look at which kit manufacturers (Nike, Adidas Puma etc) were packed up in those teams’ bags and asses what that meant for the brand as far as further representation in the tournament.
Besides tournament coordinated campaigns across television, print, social media and the internet, the essence of apparel sponsorship is found in the number of visual impressions made on consumers. The higher the profile of the team, tournament and performance correlates with sales. Having a sponsored team progress in the World Cup consequently becomes incredibly valuable to that brand.
Nike’s 2010 footwear strategy where they took their signature Orange and made only one World Cup colorway for each cleat style where that orange covered the heel, served to provide every single viewer with what is called a brand “impression”. Meaning that every time someone saw a player run and that bright pop of orange seemingly jumping off their heels, hypothetically, every viewer and potential consumer should have gotten a quick “Nike” image in their mind. The fact that Puma has followed suit this tournament and made their cleats two different colors, bright blue and pink, and that Adidas made all their cleats a special black and white patterned design goes to show that there’s credence to the influence and impact of visual impressions.
The same concept can apply to national team jersey’s. Whether a fan is at a game, watching it on TV, or streaming it on a mobile device every time they see a goal, foul, or build-up play, they see the brand symbol on the jersey. Impressions, combined with elimination tournaments, result in brands looking to sponsor teams that will advance far, and with Adidas being the only brand allowed signage around the games, some brands only have national team jersey’s as an avenue for impressions and exposure of their products.
Our Brand Bracket charts the progress of every team by the apparel sponsor that made it out of the Group Stages all the way to the Final hosted in the historic Maracana stadium in Rio.
When the tournament started, Nike edged Adidas by one team in total apparel representation. Nike had ten teams wearing their logo, Adidas had nine, Puma followed with eight teams while five separate brands, Lotto, Burrda, Uhlsport, Joma and Marathon made up the rest with one team each.
Going into the Round of Sixteen, three of the five single team brands had been eliminated leaving only Burrda and Lotto leftover. Nike and Adidas were level with five teams a piece with Puma still close behind with four.
Puma didn’t last long though, every Puma representative was subsequently eliminated in the Round of Sixteen while Lotto and Burrda persevered, eliminating two Nike representatives and making it through to the Quarter-Finals. Nike and Adidas kept pace with each other with three teams each.
The Quarter-Finals would be as far as the single-team brands went in this World Cup with Burrda and Lotto both being eliminated by Adidas and Nike respectively. This teed up two colossal Adidas vs Nike showdowns for the Semi Finals.
An interesting note that at this stage of the tournament, past the group stages, no brand had every had to face off against itself in an elimination game and these Semi-Final matchups ensured that if there was to be a Single-brand matchup, it would only be in the Final.
As it turned out, there eventually was an all Adidas World Cup Final between Germany and Adidas while Nike toiled away for third and fourth place, ensuring that the Final would be lined with Adidas signage, played with an Adidas ball by two Adidas teams.
In the end, Nike got a single sliver of revenge in that the winning, and only goal of the Final was scored by a Nike footwear sponsored player in Mario Gotze.
Not to be outdone though, Messi, probably THE Adidas player, received the Golden Bal for best player of the tournament, keeping the award in Adidas players’ hands for the fifth tournament running. Additionally The Golden Boot for highest scorer went to Ja-mes “Dont call me James” Rodriguez and the Golden Glove went to Manuel Neur, both of whom wore Adidas cleats and Adidas Gloves respectively. Nike barely stopped an Adidas individual award sweep through Paul Pogba winning the Young Player of the Tournament.
As trivial as these many different and seemingly small “victories” may be to the every-day consumer they are significant to brand recognition and companies take them very seriously. It gives the brands further opportunities to selectively leverage and market their products through these high performing athletes in a high profile medium.
The business side of this game and the financial backdrop often get described as the “ugly” side. In some cases it does tarnish the game’s image, but in many cases it does the exact opposite. Every consumer is also a fan and every fan should remember that in each major soccer related company’s offices are genuine and loyal fans of the games too.
And so, that’s it. Our global football festival is over. Just like that, the World Cup is now behind us, the transfer silly season is upon us in full swing, and the European leagues, 2018 World Cup countdown as well as Euro 2016, Copa America Centenario, and the Olympics now lay ahead of us. With that said, it comes time to naturally reminisce. Brian Phillips’ piece in Grantland serves as one of the most well written and thought provoking pieces I’ve read of late, and its hard not to feel emotional when you watch ESPN’s tournament montage.