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The FIFA World Cup: Battle of The Sponsors

Nike, Adidas and Puma. The three leading football brands in today’s market – but which brand or brands will be most successful at the 2018 FIFA World Cup?

Adidas head into the tournament celebrating 20 years as an official partner of FIFA, which means the German brand’s logo will appear on the match balls and on the referees kit. However, they have had to pay for the privilege this World Cup, with rumours suggesting they have spent between $96 and $176million.

Perhaps more importantly this year, Adidas head into the World Cup in Russia as the official sponsors of 12 competing team’s kits including Belgium, Spain, Germany and hosts Russia.

Their bitter rivals, Nike, have managed just 10 teams. Nike’s teams include England, Brazil, France and they are behind what has been labelled the ‘smartest kit of the tournament’ by football fans across the world, with Nigeria. The green and white traditional Naija pattern has taken the globe by storm with the replica shirts selling out on within just 3 hours of being released.

Alternative competitors, Puma, are the sponsors of just 4 kits at the 2018 tournament including Uruguay, Senegal, Switzerland and Serbia. This is down by 50% compared to their 8 teams at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Puma have invested heavily as the sponsors for various African nations including powerful sides such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast, both of whom were shockingly unable to qualify for the tournament in Russia.

Yet despite the kit dominance shown by Adidas, it is reported that 60% of the players heading to the World Cup across the 32 nations will be wearing Nike football boots. This may be because of Nike’s innovative Fly-Knit technology which allows for a more natural touch and feel for the ball. Or it may simply be because of the huge sponsorship deals that they are able to offer to the travelling players.

At recent World Cups, those teams playing in Adidas sponsored kits have dominated with 2010 winners, Spain, sporting the Adidas garments and last years final featuring Argentina and eventual winners, Germany, both played in Adidas sponsored kits.

Adidas as a company was founded almost 70 years ago by one of two brothers in the small German town of Herzogenaurach. An argument between the pair caused them both to go their separate ways with one brother forming Adidas and the other, Puma. What started the spat between the brothers is a point of contention. Town chronicles mention it only in passing as “internal family difficulties”, but the most common explanation is that Rudi (apparently the better-looking one) had an affair with Adi’s wife, Käthe, for which he was never forgiven.

However, in 1964 a true rival for Adidas was brought to life when Nike was founded out of Oregon, USA. Nike have gone on to dominate the sports of basketball, baseball and American football and they continue to chip away at Adidas’ grip on international football.

Despite Adidas being the official FIFA partner since the 1998 World Cup in France, investors have frequently backed Nike over the German brand. Despite the all Adidas kit final in 2014, just 3 months after the tournament Nike’s share price soared and beat Adidas by more than 30%.

The reason for Nike’s success may be because they have capitalised in a slightly different market to Adidas when it comes to their football boots. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Brazil’s Neymar Jr are the spearhead of Nike’s football boot campaign, but by capturing fan favourites like England’s Harry Kane and French wonderkid Kylian M’bappe as well, Nike have pulled away from their rivals in a competitive yet extremely profitable market.

To put it into perspective, 132 of the 200 most expensive players at the 2018 World Cup will wear Nike boots compared to just 59 representing the Adidas brand, this is according to CIES Football Observatory.

It is important to note the rise of alternative brands though. What may seem like a 2-horse race in football sponsor dominance is likely to become far more competitive in coming years. Puma are beginning to see stars move away from Nike and Adidas to join their brand such as Belgian and Manchester United striker Lukaku alongside world class talents Marco Reus, Sergio Aguero and and Euro 2016 golden boot winner, Antoine Griezmann.

After experiencing 2 years of complete success, New Balance will take part in their first World Cup sponsoring the kits of both Costa Rica and Panama. New Balance have enjoyed an excellent start to the football sponsorship industry, becoming official sponsors of back to back Scottish champions Celtic, successful Spanish side Seville and Champions League finalists, Liverpool. As a result of their early success, players like Tim Cahill (Australia), Sadio Mané (Senegal), Massimo Luongo (Australia), Kendall Waston (Costa Rica) and Jamie Penedo (Panama) will all don New Balance boots at the tournament in Russia.

It’s no secret that the World Cup is the perfect platform for these sports brands to make a statement. The 2014 tournament was watched by around 3.2 billion people worldwide and this year it is set to increase. Of course, the race to brand supremacy will still be between Nike and Adidas – with the kit market being dominated by Adidas and Nike firmly controlling the football boot market – however it is refreshing to see other brands such as Puma and New Balance make a significant impact at the tournament, with the marketing strategy and clever product placement alongside their sponsored athletes.

Puma have recruited some major stars to sport their brand whilst New Balance have used their European platform, courtesy of Liverpool F.C, to elevate the brand and successfully negotiate two international kits on display and several player sponsorships, including Liverpool star, Sadio Mané.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup promises to be a memorable tournament filled with fantastic football and even better atmospheres as the world stops to watch the biggest sporting event on the planet. Eventually, the final whistle will blow on the tournament, leaving one nation, and one brand, standing tall with the most coveted prize in football.