As we witness the global powerhouses – Nike, Adidas, and Puma – roll out World Cup new uniforms of their multiple sponsored national teams, its an opportune time to comment on the global sponsorship and advertising involved in the fabrication of soccer (aka: football) jerseys. In this first of a multi-part feature, I look at the strategic marketing and creative work involved in national team branding.
Nike is not an official World Cup sponsor and cannot even become a contender until 2030 at earliest because Adidas has paid an estimated $25 million annually for this exclusive top-tier partnership. Yet Nike continues to increase its presence and dominance in the beautiful game and around its most coveted trophy, the ballon d’or.
Though not entering the soccer market until the mid-1990s, Nike has been gobbling up the soccer globe through sponsorship deals with the most flashy club and national teams.
Of the 32 qualifying national teams for World Cup 2014, Nike has paid for the sponsoring rights to supply 10 teams. Adidas supports nine teams and Puma is outfitting eight. While sponsoring 10 teams increases media exposure and chances of sponsoring a champion, calibrating creative marketing to uniquely represent multiple and rival national teams is a tricky business. Representing the nation requires legitimacy, authenticity and care. Missing the mark not only can translate to poor financial returns, but also risks upsetting important consumer markets.
Aside from the basic requirements of providing top-notch technical gear suited for players’ bodies, the sport and the climate, kitting the national team is about creating a visual story. The World Cup is about “performing the nation,” and this performance requires appropriate costumes.
With the World Cup comes expectations that what players do on the pitch – in this jersey that represents the nation – exhibits patriotism and pride. The most successful jersey branding projects weave compelling narratives of a team – a national team – in ways that capture history and provide a visual for reliving the experience.
As the world’s largest broadcast sporting event with its estimated 3.2 billion global viewership and broadcast hours expected to exceed 30,000, the World Cup provides a stage by which the emblematic power of sport victory provides embodied, visual markers (like jerseys), which come to symbolize a public (the nation).
Patriotically striped or not, Adidas, Nike and Puma become conscripted in multiple national projects of visual messaging, which can work internally to unify the nation as well as externally to showcase the image and emblems of national athletic greatness. The national team jersey becomes a fundamental fabric in nation branding endeavors.
Rook Campbell is a Visiting Professor of Communication and Political Science at the University of Southern California. @cabinet48