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The World Cup: A Showcase of Brand Authenticity

July 23, 2014

The World Cup had just begun when Nike and Adidas (adidas) started projecting themselves as the eventual top soccer brand. They touted how many tweets, likes and forwards their campaigns had, and how each brand created real-time messages and reactive moments. They also built fast-growing virtual communities across all key platforms. Both brands provided figures that “proved” their camps were widespread and more engaging than the others.

But are the facts transparent? Are the numbers they feed us real? We thought it would be interesting to show how authentic the brands appeared on the field. Mick Hoban, who started Nike Soccer in 1978 and is one of the greatest soccer sports marketing minds, lived by one rule: “Keep the Faith” (in the sport). In other words, make sure your brand not only stays true to the game, but also remains authentic by truly being a part of the game.

Since the World Cup has now concluded, we’re taking a look at how 8 brands, all with team sponsorships, compared to each other. We’re not evaluating advertising – traditional or new media – or the millions of marketing dollars that it takes to connect the brand with the buyer (Adidas was reported to spend a total of 68 million on the World Cup). Instead, we’ve concentrated on what these 8 brands did on the field.


Key Endorsements and Footwear

The World Cup made some soccer players into household names. Nike boasts Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Wayne Rooney (England) and Neymar (Brazil). The first two didn’t make it out of the first round; Neymar had great moments but his injury prevented any superhero status. Adidas had four of the highest paid endorsements in the game but only two attended the World Cup, Lionel Messi (Argentina) and Mesut Özil (Germany). Huge money for Beckham (retired) and Gareth Bale (Wales) did not pay dividends at this event. Other Adidas endorsements, including James Rodríguez (Colombia), Thomas Müller (Germany), Arjen Robben (Netherlands) and André Schürrle (Germany), did have an impact.

Not often mentioned with the big boys, Puma had three of the highest paid endorsements playing key roles in the World Cup: Cesc Fàbregas (Spain), Sergio Agüero (Argentina) and Mario Balotelli (Italy). Not household names, but they were featured well during the tournament. Marco Reus (Germany), another big Puma name, was forced to stay home with an injury.

Leading up to the semi-finals, Adidas boots scored 78 of the 166 World Cup goals (not including penalties). Nike players scored 73, and all other brands tallied 15.

The number of wins shows Adidas on top with 46 total, Nike at 37 and Puma at 22.

Advantage: ADIDAS


Team Endorsements

Nike started with the most team uniform sponsorships (10) followed closely by Adidas (9) and Puma (8). Puma was quickest to exit, with no teams left after the round of 16. Nike and Adidas had equally surviving teams wearing their uniforms till the final four. Then, it was an all Adidas final.

Advantage: ADIDAS


Official Ball

As an official FIFA sponsor, Adidas has been creating an official FIFA World Cup ball since 1970.

Advantage: ADIDAS



This category gets very messy as some of the smaller specialty brands, such as Uhlsport and Reusch, are endorsing players. However, the #1 and #2 goalkeepers in the world, Manuel Neuer (Germany/Adidas) and Tim Howard (U.S.A./Nike) both had stellar tournaments that garnered high visibility. The top 12 ranked World Cup goalkeepers (ranked by Fox Sports) include 4 for Nike, 2 for Adidas, 3 for Uhlsport, 1 for Reusch, 1 for Puma and 1 unknown. Apologies for slighting other performers, but recognition for these goalkeepers stood out.

Advantage: NIKE


TV Exposure by Match

We limited the TV/Digital exposure to team uniforms. Calculating percentage of boots and goalkeeping gloves along with uniforms would take an actuary to figure things out. How many minutes each brand was viewed on the field was commensurate to the games played. Nike (3930 minutes) slightly beat out Adidas (3660 minutes) for most time on the screen, and Puma came in a distant third (2610 minutes).

Advantage: NIKE



It’s hard to draw a clear winner based on the data we’ve looked at. We know Nike kits spent more time on-screen, but Adidas kits won more matches. Adidas had more branded content on the field at all times, but the winning goal of the Cup was scored off of a Nike boot. But these are just facts. The overall brand perceptions shaped by actions on the field will ultimately be determined by consumer trends in the months ahead. So, who would you choose? Which kit would you wear? And what matters to you more – the team logo or the brand logo?

But there is little time to debate and/or celebrate! The International Club season is right around the corner and the champion''s reign in the business of branding is tenuous at best.


View the World Cup Brands 2014 Infographic