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World Cup Countdown: Sponsor v Sponsor v Sponsor

When the world’s best footballing nations meet in Brazil to battle it out for the FIFA World Cup, it won’t be the only fight for global supremacy on show. Also on the bill will be the contest of the sportswear brands.

Who is the sponsor anyway?

Adidas has long been the dominant footballing brand thanks in part due to its longstanding involvement in the game’s traditional heartland—Europe—and has supplied the official balls used at every tournament since the last Slazenger ball was thumped into the top corner by Geoff Hurst.

So to Brazil, where the traditional yellow shirts of the home nation are provided by Nike. The brand is clearly hoping this gives the illusion of the company being sponsors of the event.

FIFA is unable to exert the same level of influence on kit designs as enjoyed by its IOC counterparts. Unlike the IOC’s controversial Rule 40, which protects its existing partners, FIFA can’t restrain teams’ or players’ marketing activities with non-sponsors during the build-up and duration of the competition. In fact, despite not being a FIFA partner, Nike were presumed by many to be a sponsor of the 2010 tournament, such was its level of exposure through its sponsorship of teams and individuals. The brand was plastered across billboards and screens ahead of the competition and the distinctly visible during games on shirts and boots.

While Nike is attempting to ambush the adidas sponsorship of the World Cup, adidas itself have sought to respond to its rivals’ Brazil kit deal by creating a kit for Brazilian team Palmeiras. The kit uses the traditional colours of Brazil, but with a retro adidas twist, and has already proved popular. We expect there’ll be many more interesting stories to emerge as we get closer to kick off on 12 June and the battle heats up.

What does sponsorship success look like?


No European team has ever won the World Cup in South America, but should Brazil fail on home soil again (they’re still hurting from 1950!) adidas will be hoping to hit the jackpot with its sponsorship of the next three favourites for the title: Argentina, Germany and Spain. Puma have backed a number of outside favourites in Uruguay and Chile who are both expected to do well on their home continent along with Italy, Switzerland and the Ivory Coast.

Latest odds suggest that adidas has a 47% chance of kitting out the new world champions, with Nike close behind at 35.6%. Underdogs in this race are Puma (11.6%) and Burrda (5.8%), with a number of also-rans also in with a theoretical chance of seeing their shirts adorning the captain lifting the trophy on 13 July.


No doubt most brands will claim some degree of success, but it’s likely to be a much more confused picture, with results varying hugely across the individual markets.

Loyalty in football dictates support for teams with close to little chance of winning (I should know!), and this loyalty will extend to some degree to the teams’ sponsors, with manufacturers enjoying success in the local markets of their sponsored teams. Although England have only a small chance of success in Brazil (28/1), much of the nation will still be awash with flags of St George and replica Nike England shirts. Likewise, adidas will do well in Japan, priced at 100/1. Swiss kit manufacturer Burrda will dominate the Belgian market (14/1) as World Cup fever grips the country, who go to their first tournament since 2002 with a talented squad, a weak group, and high hopes.


The exposure foreign teams and leagues now enjoy across the globe has changed how supporters consume football and has seen a shift away from locally or nationally produced heroes to a growing fleet of global superstars. Consumers are increasingly favouring teams with which they have no connection other than purely enjoying their style of play, the success they enjoy, or even the transfer of their favourite players. This has increasingly crossed over into the national game with loyalties based on factors other than on one’s home nation.

This is where sportswear brands can make inroads into their rivals’ markets. Global icons like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Mario Balotelli, sponsored by adidas, Nike, and Puma respectively, allow brands to associate themselves with success and performance to influence buying decisions rather than tying in directly to local or national teams.


It could be that a broken metatarsal or a slip before a crucial penalty (blamed on a boot or a wicked swerve of the roundest ball ever—a claim made for the Jabulani, the official ball of South Africa 2010) will have a nation cursing a particular brand. Or the style of play and sportsmanship of an underdog could capture the hearts of neutrals, while injuries, poor performance or disciplinary issues may deprive brands of their stars.

This wild card gives smaller brands the chance to get great value for their backing of the lesser teams. Lotto supplies the Costa Rica team and millions in the UK will be tuning in to their match against England giving them great exposure. Although they are unlikely to beat England, if they do any winning goal is likely to be repeatedly replayed with extensive coverage in the press. Even if Honduras lose every game if one of their players scores a wonder goal football fans across the globe will all see it and their Joma manufactured kit.


How this association with sporting success (or failure!) is converted to sales will be the true factor in determining which brands consider the tournament a success. Currently Nike lead the way with 14.6% of the global sporting goods market, with adidas at 11.4%, and each of their activities around the World Cup will have some bearing on which direction this battle of global brands takes.

Both brands have established significant standings in terms of World Cup visibility through a mixture of sponsorship of players, teams and the competition itself. What they and other brands do with this in terms of engaging with their consumers will determine success here. The chance for truly unique, interesting engagements opens up opportunities for smaller brands to maximise the value of their sponsorships and compete with brands making a far larger investment. Regardless of the result there will be no time for any brand to rest before all eyes will be on the next major fixture: the Rio 2016 Olympic Games!

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