“The FIFA World Cup is the biggest sporting stage on earth, and an intensely competitive tournament that can turn even the most disinterested fan into a face-painting, flag-waving football junkie.”
The following originally appeared in HYPEBEAST Magazine Issue 7: The Legacy Issue. It’s available now at select retailers globally.
Whether you’re a die-hard enthusiast, a hater, or a casual viewer who tunes in once every four years, it’s not too much to say that football is the world’s most-loved sport and a unique, universal language spoken in all corners of the globe. By extension — and with all due respect to Pierre de Coubertin’s Olympic Games — the FIFA World Cup is the biggest sporting stage on earth, and an intensely competitive tournament that can turn even the most disinterested fan into a face-painting, flag-waving football junkie. The numbers don’t lie. According to FIFA, an estimated 715.1 million people watched the final match of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and the 2010 event in South Africa was broadcast to 204 countries on 245 different channels. This year’s tournament is expected to be the most social World Cup in history and on July 13, millions of viewers from all corners of the earth will be watching one nation hoist the most coveted trophy in sports.
From a purely commercial standpoint however, it’s clear that there’s another game afoot, one that takes place off the pitch and isn’t measured in victories or goals, but in billions of dollars. From media rights and advertising revenues, to merchandise sales and even hotel occupancy rates, the world’s most-watched sporting event is a veritable pot of gold for a wide spectrum of businesses, the most prominent of which is the sporting goods industry.
This year, big name companies like adidas, Nike and PUMA will once again vie for the attention — and wallets — of the millions of fans crowded before countless television screens worldwide, or packed into one of several sweltering stadiums in this year’s host nation of Brazil. And they’ll do so not only with the big-name players they endorse on field, but with product tie-ins and some of the most technologically advanced gear ever designed for the pitch.
In the case of German sportswear giant adidas, this highly lucrative, highly competitive commercial sport is a familiar one. The brand’s involvement in The Beautiful Game dates back to the early 1920s, when founder Adi Dassler constructed his first football shoes from a small workshop in Herzogenaurach, Germany. It wasn’t until 1954 however that adidas would truly earn its now ubiquitous “stripes.” At a tournament still referred to as the “Miracle of Berne,” the German national team won the World Cup wearing Dassler’s then-revolutionary footwear, a new boot made of thinner, lighter leather with screw-in studs.
In the decades since, countless competitors have fought hard for a slice of the football business, but few have come close to the Three Stripes’ impressive, vice-like grip on the market. Late last year, FIFA and adidas formally extended their long-term partnership agreement, granting adidas the Official Partner, Supplier and Licensee rights for the World Cup and all FIFA events until 2030. Most recently, the brand announced a football sales target of €2 billion EUR (approximately $2.7 billion USD) in 2014, a lofty figure which, if realized, will set a new record and industry standard.
“Originals, running, outdoor, training, Y-3 and obviously football, have all created stories that connect to our World Cup campaign.”
Jamie Lugo, adidas’s Senior Concept Manager for the FIFA World Cup, explains the scope of the adidas World Cup campaign
Where the World Cup is concerned, a large part of this success is cooked up at adidas’s global headquarters in Herzogenaurach — a half an hour’s drive from Nuremberg, Germany — where preparations for this year’s World Cup began as soon as the 2010 tournament drew to a close. “We started thinking about the 2014 World Cup immediately after the previous one finished, so preparations began about four years ago,” explains Jamie Lugo, adidas’s Senior Concept Manager for the FIFA World Cup. “We found that there was a lot of information to be taken from the previous World Cup and all of our departments started working to create the strategic plan for the next event.”
These preliminary preparations were followed by the development of the official match ball a few months prior to the UEFA Euro Championship, after which – like the selection of a team roster – plans were finalized for adidas’s complete World Cup product portfolio. “At this point the creation started, from factory planning, consumer research, innovations, to intense inspirations trips. This all rolls out at different times, all the way until the event,” Lugo says.
On the busiest days, the brand’s headquarters and facilities in both Germany and the U.S. are sites of carefully-controlled chaos, with employees such as engineers, researchers, designers, product managers, athlete service managers and strategists, all scampering about in their various roles. Adds Lugo, “There are meetings with FIFA and various national federations, consumer panels and innovation labs, right through to product testing, strategy work and, of course, working with our assets.”
It’s a flurry of inspired activity that, according to him, has resulted in the most extensive and cohesive World Cup campaign to date. “This one is a very special one,” he reveals. “It is by far the most impactful and innovative collection we’ve ever had. To begin with, this is the first time that we have pushed as a whole brand with product stories related to the event: Originals, running, outdoor, training, Y-3 and obviously football, have all created stories that connect to our World Cup campaign.”
The overarching message this year is “All in or Nothing,” an extension of the high-profile, multi-platform “All in” campaign that has pervaded much of adidas’s advertising in recent years. But while the slogan was intended to reflect the unwavering dedication of the brand’s brightest stars, it’s also symbolic of the company’s go-big-or-go-home approach to this year’s marketing and communications efforts, retail stores, and performance and lifestyle products.
“On the pitch, all eyes will be fixated on the official match ball, which adidas has once again designed, tested and manufactured as the World Cup’s official partner.”
On the pitch, all eyes will be fixated on the official match ball, which adidas has once again designed, tested and manufactured as the World Cup’s official partner. As arguably the most iconic element of the tournament and something of a cult object, it also has the highest priority in the product development process. This year’s iteration is the Brazuca, a design named following a public vote in Brazil and, according to adidas, the most-tested ball ever produced. Inspired by the colors and stars of the Brazilian flag, as well as the colorful wristbands often worn by the country’s citizens, the vibrantly-hued design combines elements from adidas’s tried-and-tested Tango 12 and UEFA Champions League balls, as well as a groundbreaking six-panel form that was intended to improve symmetry, uniformity and efficiency. According to Product Manager and Business Unit Director of adidas Football Hardware, Matthias Mecking, “The new design elements boost performance on the pitch, but also simplifies manufacturing. It will feel similar to the balls the players are used to playing with but the technological changes we have made will provide improved grip, touch, stability and aerodynamics during play.”
Its professed on-field prowess aside, the Brazuca has also been generating buzz for an innovation that, arguably, has little to do with performance. For the first time, the official match ball will look out at the world in the same way it will be scrutinized on the pitch, courtesy of the Brazucam – a “cameraball” equipped with 360-degree views through six different lenses. “We wanted to tell the stories that matter most to the competing countries, their love of the game and the unique style with which they play football,” explains Hans-Peter Nuernberg, adidas Innovation Team’s Senior Development Engineer, who’s also quick to point out that the ball won’t be used in tournament matches. “Through a series of films released from seven different countries as part of the ‘All in or Nothing’ adidas FIFA World Cup campaign, we aimed to get under the skin of each nation in the run up to the tournament and share their passion for football in a truly unique way. The films have been uniquely shot from the perspective of Brazuca itself.”
As part of what is being hailed as the most socially-connected sporting event in history, the Brazuca is also the first match ball to boast its own Twitter profile and the first adidas product to have an account on social media, reaching a landmark of 100,000 followers in under one week.
“With the type of football players that you have in the game today and the different styles of play, it’s important to give them choices and not just push them in one single direction.”
adidas Innovation Team Engineer Martin Love speaks on the different boots designed
That said, it’s the rest of adidas’s cutting-edge product lineup – and its accompanying lifestyle collections – that are poised to make an even bigger splash on the pitch and at the tills. Headlining this year’s collection is adidas’s Primeknit technology, which employs just one thread of yarn knitted to form an entire, minimally constructed upper, and is already a popular innovation among avid runners.
Premiering on field with the recently released Primeknit Samba – the world’s first fully-knitted football boot – the technology’s benefits include a minimal, sock-like fit, enhanced touch on the ball and a reduced weight of only 165 grams. For the occasion, adidas debuted the boot in a riotous combination of four vibrant colors including solar blue, solar zest, blast purple and pink, to form a single, mélange effect yarn that has already turned heads on the feet of Uruguayan footballer, Liverpool forward and 2014 EPL Player of the Year Luis Suarez.
“We are really excited for this first-ever, multi-functional upper material and we see it as something that can sit alongside synthetics or leather as a choice for the players,” says adidas Innovation Team Engineer Martin Love of Primeknit’s unique positioning within the brand’s football lineup. “With the type of football players that you have in the game today and the different styles of play, it’s important to give them choices and not just push them in one single direction. This is why we have a worked on a range of boots this year.”
Accordingly, the Primeknit Samba will be flanked this year by more traditional, but no-less-technical boots like the ultralight-weight adizero f50, Predator Instinct, Nitrocharge, 11pro and adizero f50 Messi, all of which will see action in the black-and-white, warpaint-inspired “Battle Pack” makeups, or in high energy colors and bold graphics specially created to celebrate the host nation of Brazil. From the knee-up, national team players will be kitted out in uniforms that utilize adidas’s adizero technology and are said to be 40% lighter and better fitting than anything the brand has ever produced for the sport.
“It’s adidas’s passion for The Beautiful Game that is its not-so secret ingredient, and the “red thread” that binds each level of the company.”
For those less inclined to spend their hard-earned dollars on space-age performance products, adidas has also expanded its World Cup offerings with a selection of lifestyle products from its Originals and high-end Y-3 lines. Popular retro sneakers like the football-specific Samba and Gazelle, after all, have already been re-appropriated with street influences, and with the ongoing success of its Sport Style division – a line recently bolstered by the high-profile signings of Kanye West and Pharrell Williams – the brand is hoping that the crossover appeal of designs such as Y-3’s Honja Hi and Sprint, as well as adidas Originals’s Blue collection will pique the interest of this year’s World Cup audience.
But while tireless preparation, forward-thinking innovation, technical wizardry and commercial savvy can take a brand far, it’s adidas’s passion for The Beautiful Game that is its not-so secret ingredient, and the “red thread” that binds each level of the company. Unlike wins and losses, or revenue and profit, a brand’s passion is not easily quantified, yet no less crucial to its ultimate success. And at adidas, it seems, there’s plenty to go around. Whether it’s adidas-Group CEO and Deputy Chairman of the Supervisory Board of FC Bayern Munich Herbert Hainer’s undisputed love for the game, the dedication of its designers, researchers and developers, or the ongoing excellence of its brand ambassadors, it’s clear that football is a source of great pride for the Three Stripes, and the main reason for its stranglehold on the global football business. And with the sport’s biggest stage looming in a matter of weeks, the brand isn’t pulling any punches in its preparations.
“The World Cup is the pinnacle of every professional footballer’s career,” says Lugo of the tournament’s importance for both athletes and the brand. “It takes a phenomenal amount of work to get there and for many, will be their only chance to be involved. They take this chance and give everything to do their best for themselves, their team and their nation. That’s what ‘All in or Nothing’ is about. It’s bold, it’s unapologetic and it’s honest, and we feel that it is a clear reflection of the mindset of the teams in the tournament. It is an inclusive approach that reflects what it takes for a team, and a nation to win the tournament. There are no half measures.”