Football and Fashion: Nike, Football And Their Enduring Relationship
Nike and Football: A Match Made in Heaven
Nike started as track and field specialists, but have created a sporting manufacturing legacy in football and sport across the world.
In this post, we continue our look at the relationship between football and fashion as we look closer at the role of Nike in football.
Nike: The Beginnings
Phil Knight ran track and field at the University of Oregon. During this time, Knight met Bill Bowerman.
Bowerman was Knights's coach during his time at Oregon. It was a relationship that would see the two combine their passion for track and field with running shoes, and the pair would eventually create one of the largest sports apparel manufacturers in the world.
Originally called Blue Ribbon Sports, Knight and Bowerman worked with a Japanese shoe company, Onitsuka Tiger. Bowerman came up with a new shoe idea that would take the sneaker world by storm, the Cortez.
Tiger released the Tiger Cortez in 1967 and it was an instant hit- but relations between Blue Ribbon and Tiger began to sour. Tiger claimed Blue Ribbon were selling their own version of Cortez under the name “Nike.”
The two would split in 1971, leading to a lawsuit from Tiger about the ownership of Cortez. The judge allowed both to sell the shoe, and this led to one of the only shoes that is a best-selling shoe for two different companies.
Shortly after the lawsuit, Blue Ribbon rebranded to Nike and the rest, as they say, is history.
Nike’s Sporting Dominance
Despite joining the game later than rivals such as Adidas and Puma, Nike quickly assured they became a sporting manufacturing giant.
In 1972, Nike signed their first sporting athlete, Ilie Theodoriu Năstase, a Romanian tennis player- but their biggest coup was still to come.
In 1984, Nike signed basketball's biggest prospect, Michael Jordan, to their growing list of Nike athletes.
Nike and Jordan have enjoyed a fruitful relationship since 1984, and together have made millions, as well as creating the highly sought-after Nike Air Jordan collection.
Over the years, Nike has worked with some of the greatest athletes in all sports across the world. This list includes LeBron James, Serena Williams, Mo Farah, Tiger Woods, Rafael Nadal, and Kevin Durant to name a few.
Nike also has bi-sponsorships with various teams and leagues. They are the sole producer of every NFL uniform, every NBA/WNBA, and every MLB uniform.
Nike and Football Boots
Nike's football adventure started in 1971. “The Swoosh” wasn’t the best start for Nike in football as it didn’t really do too well in wet weather, but everyone has to start somewhere.
As the 70s drew to a close and the 80s rolled in, Nike showed they had learned from their mistakes.
As Aston Villa clinched the biggest prize in European club football in 1982, each of their players was wearing Nike boots. It is from here we see Nike boots begin to kick on, pardon the pun.
Nike started to invest heavily in booty quality, establishing itself as a leading boot manufacturer.
In 1996, Nike opened a football factory in Italy. The facility in Montebelluna remains a key location for the development and testing of football boots projects for Nike.
After continued success, Nike decided to test premium boots made of new synthetic leather material.
The boots were such a success, the players who tested them refused to give them back. This test boot led to the famous Mercurial boot that Ronaldo wore in France.
Further boot development was made in 2013 and 2014. The Hypervenom was created to fit the next-generation attacker.
After speaking with the likes of Neymar and Wayne Rooney, Nike created the NIKESKIN, which is as close as you can get to playing barefoot. This technology was used on the Nike Hypervenom.
In 2014 there was another ground-breaking innovation, the Nike Flyknit uppers. NIKE, Inc. President & CEO Mark Parker;
“New design innovations like Nike Flyknit technology provide a quantum leap forward in what boots can be- and what they can help players achieve.”
Nike and Football Kits
Despite a shaky start when it came to boot manufacturing, Nike had no issues when it came to kit making.
They didn’t make their step into professional football until 1978 when they signed a deal with Portland Timbers.
It wasn’t until 1982, when Nike made their step into the English club game, when they made kits for Sunderland. In fact, Sunderland was the first team across Europe to wear Nike kits.
In the 2020/21 season, Nike had sponsorship deals with ten of the ‘elite’ clubs across Europe, including Barcelona, Liverpool, PSG, and Inter Milan.
This put Nike at the top of the ranking, with Adidas only having five, and Puma seven.
The international game is where Nike has really made their mark as a kit maker. Phil Knight set his sights on signing a manufacturing deal with Brazil as soon as Nike got involved with football.
Knight is quoted as saying,
“We will only truly understand football when we see the game through the eyes of Brazilians.”
In 1996, Knight got his wish, as Brazil signed a deal with Nike, and the two have been partners ever since.
Nike has also held a noticeable deal with the US national team for some time now. Nike, along with the US Soccer Federation, is striving to grow the reputation of football across America.
Nike and Football Players
As we discussed earlier, Nike has never struggled to attract big names to their books, and this is the same when it comes to footballers.
Nike started with a big name on their books in 1982, as Liverpool goal-scorer Ian Rush signed as a Nike athlete.
Despite the early start in the men's game, Nike didn’t enter the women's game until 1993, when they took Mia Hamm onto their books. This deal made her one of the first women in the US to have a paid sports endorsement deal.
Nike now has a wide range of footballers on their books including, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Mason Mount, and Jack Grealish.
Star players will often have their own range of boots., and this has been seen with the likes of Ronaldo and Neymar in recent years.
As Nike continues to keep a grasp on the football industry, they will have to keep fighting off rivals Adidas and Puma, who are desperate to take their top spot in the footballing manufacturing world.
Check out our podcast with the Founder of Reebok, one of Nike’s great rivals in the world of sport and fashion!