The 2010 World Cup is as much a clash of logos, as it is the world’s best soccer players. Adidas and Nike are in a battle for consumer attention, and money.
Without a doubt, Adidas is the grand-daddy of soccer. For 40 years, the German company has been the main sponsor behind European football.
But at this year's world cup, there's someone in the other corner. Nike, who analysts say is the 800-pound American gorilla of sports marketing.
Both companies want the attention of the billions of people watching the global championships. Both companies want to dominate the estimated $10.9 billion football industry.
Nike’s approach has always been to use celebrity to sell. It has a corporate history of sponsoring the biggest names in sports, however the World Cup is different. Rival Adidas is already the official sponsor, so how will Nike capitalize?
Sports analysts like Matt Powell say Nike is a master of guerilla, or ambush, marketing, and that's partly how it's managed to elbow its way in to the football market with surprising speed.
“They started with it at the Los Angeles Olympics which were sponsored by converse at the time,” Powell told me in a recent interview. “Nike took over allsorts of buildings and put their banners on them and that really started Nike into being a very good guerilla marketer. Nike always finds a clever way to get its name out."
It's the kind of confidence that Nike exudes. Hannah Jones, Nike’s Vice President of Sustainable Business, told me on a recent visit to the company headquarters in Oregon: “It's never challenged us in the past. We love our athletes. We love our teams. We're all about celebrating the game. We're all about celebrating that young football crazy obsessed teenager and that is who you see turning up.”
But it's ditto for Adidas, which is certainly not a company heading for the sidelines any time soon. Before the competition began, company CEO Herbert Hainer told CNN: “We are quite excited for this event. And we have set aggressive targets. We want to achieve new record sales in football. In 2008 we had the best result with 1.3 billion euro and we are absolutely confident we will over-achieve this number."
Soccer is not nearly as big in the U.S .as football is in Europe, and that’s a challenge for Nike. At this year's World cup Nike sponsors nine teams, its most ever, including the U.S., England, Portugal and Holland.
And all its players are sporting uniforms made from recycled plastic bottles gathered in Asia. It’s just one example of how Nike plans to woo the environmentally conscious football fan.
At a recent unveiling of the new football kits, Nike’s Global Football Creative Director Phil Dickinson told me, “I'm super-biased on this but it's the world's best sport and we put the world's best athletes in a sustainable uniform. It’s inspirational and it’s high on the agenda for Nike, a sustainable business where eventually everything will be reused and recycled.”
So there’s something else to watch at the World Cup. The battle off the field is looking just as interesting as the one on it.
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