The FIFA World Cup isn’t just a competition between some of the world’s greatest soccer players; it’s also where some of the world’s greatest brands compete, even if they’re not an official sponsor.
Take Adidas, which will celebrate its 20th year as an official partner of FIFA on Thursday when the 2018 World Cup begins in Russia, kicking off 32 teams playing 64 games over 33 days. It’s sponsoring more teams than any other brand at the World Cup and its logo will be visible on match balls and referees’ uniforms—but rival Nike dominates when it comes to the boots the players will wear, even though it’s not a sponsor.
Nike, of course, cannot mention the World Cup or do any marketing that could be construed as “ambush marketing” around the World Cup, just as it has done in the past around the Olympics. But it’s still free to promote its sponsorships.
While Adidas Original on Thursday was busy introducing its new “P.O.D.” silhouette with Pharrell and other brand ambassadors, Adidas overall is focused on the World Cup. It’s promoting its street style and fashion-forward football jerseys, such as those above, which are designed to “take people from the stadium to the street” as High Snobiety puts it, adding:
The new shirts fall right into the current fashion zeitgeist towards nostalgic ‘80s and ‘90s-inspired design and the shirts are as much fashion designs as they are sporting ones. Take Japan’s latest shirt, classic Japanese cuts and styles have long been an inspiration for fashion designers and the new jersey uses a graphic that resembles the traditional Sashiko stitching technique. Japan’s away shirt is directly inspired by the nation’s experimental streetwear scene, say adidas Football.
Nike is hoping to score with footie fashionistas with its 2018 kits.
When it comes to the sponsored National Football Federation kits that will be worn on the field this World Cup, Nike is already impressing with Nigeria’s home jersey and new kit, a fusion of old and new that subtly pays tribute to the nation’s traditional garb and introduces “a new designation for Nigeria itself: Naija.”
In a new story uploaded today, Nike tells “a story of Russian street football told by the streets of Russia. Korobka is more than a football pitch. It’s a place where you don’t play for trophies, and pride is all that matters. Where players never question their potential, but rather listen to their instinct. It’s a place where you Never Ask.”
In another clip, futbol legend Cristiano Ronaldo talks about the bicycle kick that became his most iconic goal to date.
As The Guardian points out, it also matters which teams end up in the finals and then winning, especially as Adidas teams have won three of the past five World Cups: “At recent World Cups, Adidas teams have dominated: in 2014 the company boasted both teams in the final when Germany beat Argentina, and over the past five tournaments three winners have lifted the trophy donning the Adidas logo.”
It also concludes that Nike may have the upper hand going into this World Cup, as it’s a relentless competitor and up for a feisty match: “The groundwork Nike has done over the past decade has been smart, yet simple. While Adidas has given hundreds of millions to FIFA, Nike has ploughed its massive resources into growing the marketability of its athletes, primarily via social media.”
Still, it’s the fans who will decide as the World Cup matches proceed—and the battle of the brands commences.