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Life & Style

Adidas and Puma eye chances in soccer’s fashion moment

Published November 1, 2023
Pop star Rihanna in an advertisement for Fenty X Puma. Photo: Puma
Pop star Rihanna in an advertisement for Fenty X Puma. Photo: Puma

LONDON: Sportswear brands like Adidas and Puma are seeking to take advantage of a flirtation with soccer by the fashion world to reach a new customer base, building in part on demand created by this summer’s successful Women’s World Cup.

With celebrities like Kim Kardashian seen attending matches and wearing soccer jerseys, clubs too spy new merchandising opportunities. One Premiership team has hired a creative director to expand its apparel offering, while Adidas in September launched an “exclusively off-pitch” apparel collection for some of the big-name teams it sponsors.

“The love-in between football and fashion is only just beginning,” said Richard Busby, CEO at sponsorship consultancy BDS Sponsorship.

The Women’s World Cup showed there is huge unmet demand for soccer-related merchandise for women: Nike drew a backlash from fans for not offering replica kits for England’s Mary Earps and other goalkeepers playing in the competition.

But the trend extends to fashion-conscious fans of both sexes, Busby said. “Premiership clubs have a lot of wealthy supporters but very few of the items they sell appeal to them, whether men or women.”

Second-division Greek football club Athens Kallithea is among those giving its jerseys a makeover. Its campaigns show women wearing the unisex tops with satin skirts and styled as smart casual clothing to wear out to dinner.

The ranges are designed to appeal beyond a club’s traditional fan base.

Kardashian has been spotted wearing vintage Roma and Paris Saint-Germain shirts, while 20-year-old model Mia Regan paired an Arsenal shirt with a long denim skirt and boots at a Paris Fashion Week show in October.

In August, Crystal Palace hired Kenny Annan-Jonathan as creative director focused on apparel. He is expected to expand the range of clothing offered by the Premier League club.

Hype around football culture

Adidas and Puma have long been associated with streetwear and pop culture.

But with the German companies each spending two-thirds of their annual sponsorship outlay on soccer, according to a GlobalData report published this month, football’s fashionable turn could prove lucrative.

For Nike, which also invests significantly in basketball and college sports, soccer accounts for 48% of its annual sponsorship spend, GlobalData found.

“We are experiencing hype around football jerseys and general designs influenced by football culture across streetwear and fashion,” said Puma’s global creative director Heiko Desens.

Puma is seeking to further fuel that hype. Its newest footwear collaboration with popstar Rihanna’s Fenty brand, launched last month, was a trainer inspired by cleats worn by the late, legendary Brazilian soccer player Pele.

The launch campaign featured Rihanna inside a giant de-constructed soccer ball. The shoes, priced at $170 for a silver colourway and $160 for a black and white model, sold out on Puma’s website on the day they were released.

“Puma has a higher sales exposure to women than Adidas or Nike, and the original Rihanna partnership in 2015 was really effective in helping it build strong demand and a lot of credibility with the female consumer,” said Graham Renwick, analyst at Berenberg.

“So with the relaunch of this partnership Puma will be hoping for a similar response.”

Adidas’s apparel range for Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Manchester United and Real Madrid, launched in September, included crop tops and dresses made in a jersey knit and featuring more subtle club branding.

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“We want to cater to the needs of both the consumer who plays football actively and the consumer who is attracted by football culture,” Adidas said.

High fashion is also getting involved: in May, Italian label Prada collaborated with Adidas on soccer cleats in three colourways including white, retailing for $595 a pair.

Liverpool and Newcastle United are also seeking to hire creative directors, in a trend that could change the dynamic between the Premiership clubs and their sponsoring brands.

Athens Kallithea and Italy’s Venezia FC have used slick social media campaigns to sell apparel globally despite a smaller fanbase.

“There’s a risk of tension with existing fans whenever you start moving beyond the core culture,” said Athens Kallithea’s president and creative director, Ted Philipakos. He said teams from the Premier League and Bundesliga had contacted him to learn from his strategy.

“It’s a delicate balancing act that requires more nuance and sensibility than many big clubs tend to have,” Philipakos said.

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