PSG x Air Jordan points to the future of kit sponsorship

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There’s been a lot of hoo ha about PSG’s rollout of their new kit sponsorship deal with Air Jordan over the past couple of weeks.

Air Jordan is of course the subsidiary brand of Nike created for Michael Jordan, the ‘Jumpman’ logo incorporating his famous silhouette and the new kit has replaced the Eiffel Tower of PSG’s logo with Jordan.

PSG has been on a cultural charm offensive and are actually proving to be a smart investment for their Qatari owners. Slightly unsavoury individuals parking their money in European football has become more and more pronounced with the progenitor Roman Abramovich now seeming rather old fashioned as Man City and PSG act as state sponsored vehicles for their owners, gaining them cultural capital and visibility in Europe.

It’s hard to get too hot and bothered about human rights abuses when your lavishly assembled team are dispatching all your domestic rivals and letting you watch Neymar every week.

It’s been suggested that it’s this benevolent image that they want to create in order to make themselves culturally indispensable in a European cultural context and softening their political image.

Complaining about these unsavoury individuals is probably pointless now. They are too far entrenched in the sporting landscape to have anything happen to them and they seem too invested in their ventures to back out any time soon.

It’s not like other football club owners are particularly wholesome; in England we have Mike Ashley, the Glazers, the Kroenkes and the ‘dildo brothers’ of West Ham. Smaller fry than nation states but hardly B-Corp owners.

some of the Air Jordan x PSG wares for sale

some of the Air Jordan x PSG wares for sale

PSG have seized upon the opportunity that comes of being the only big club based in Paris, Ici c’est Paris, and are leveraging all the cultural capital and associated cool that comes with it. Air Jordan is a cool brand, basketball is popular amongst French youth and having lived in France, I’ve seen the popularity of basketball and American culture in general among youngsters wandering about in the street.

One way of seeing which way the cultural winds are blowing is by visiting Nike outlet stores wherever you are. In the French ones there are basketball shoes aplenty. This trend does not much exist in England and with the Air Jordan x PSG collaboration and now that Nike have a league wide deal with the NBA, I expect that this trend will gather pace.

PSG matches are now a stop off for pop cultural icons visiting Paris, including Rihanna and various Kardashian/Jenners. Justin Timberlake and the Rolling Stones will have worn PSG brand clothing to perform in by the end of this year. The kit launch this season coincided with NBA Allstar and Air Jordan athlete Jimmy Butler visiting PSG training, paying homage to Neymar and Mbappe and taking in a home game.

The launch has been extremely popular with PSG having to disable their pre order option on their website due to the high demand for the 90 piece collection. This is great news for the club who, despite their current standing in the game, are a long way behind Premier League clubs and Real Madrid and Barcelona when it comes to worldwide support. The tie up with Air Jordan will give them huge exposure in the profitable US and Chinese markets where basketball is enormous.

The Air Jordan move seems obvious in retrospect yet also quite innovative. Why have no other clubs sought out unusual kit sponsorships previously? There are challenger brands who have come and gone but, particularly with the rise and rise of the athleisure trend, how have no teams forged relationships with higher end fashion brands who now run their own activewear lines?

"The club being in Paris obviously helps," says Antony Marcou, CEO of sports marketing agency Sports Revolution. "As a marketeer, if you were to think of some buzzwords around Paris the city, you'd be using words like 'chic,' 'high-end,' 'culture.' As a marketing position, it works."

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Air Jordan is a diffusion line of Nike if you will but is not exactly ‘high end’ or ‘chic’ compared to the large fashion houses that the players doubtless frequent for their own clothing. Mbappé has played in the Nike x Off White collaboration boots, the Virgil Abloh helmed brand that has seen their founder become creative director of Louis Vuitton.

Perhaps it’s a question of scale; Nike, Adidas and the like have the established pathways, relationships and production capacity to service the huge demand that these teams create; or perhaps it’s a question of desire. Maybe no one can be bothered to look outside the usual channels as if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Women’s sport seems more open to innovation in this way as far fewer customers are going to be buying team branded apparel. Walk down a street and count the number of women wearing Manchester United shirts. There aren’t too many.

Now imagine if United, sponsored by Adidas, used the manufacturer’s relationship with Stella McCartney to make a female specific line of teamwear. This would be a cool, innovative and possibly lucrative way to milk the United brand for further cash and to make them more appealing to an underserved female consumer, as well as publicising their women’s teams. It would probably not go down too well with her father but it’s merely an example.

United have already shown they are happy to innovate with their Adidas x Pogba x Stormzy music video which went viral.

Players have always been happy to avail themselves of opportunities to connect with pop culture figures and now the shoe is slightly on the other foot as athletes are now some of the most recognised figures on the planet. Cross pollinating audiences is nothing but a smart move and as both parties tend to admire the other, the synergy is real and crucially for a younger audience, authentic.

Arsenal could also avail themselves of similar opportunities when Adidas take over their kit next season but they have probably missed the boat by not tying up with Puma athletes like Rihanna and Usain Bolt, trialist at Puma linked Borussia Dortmund, who transcend pop cultural barriers.

Doubtless in the Instagram age clubs will get more and more adventurous with their kit stylings and offerings. World Cup 2018 saw the Nigeria shirt become a fashion must have.

Football is suddenly cool again with Gosha Rubchinskiy, the aforementioned Off White and others using the sport as inspiration.

Smaller clubs could be the testing ground for innovative promotional strategies as they can afford to take a few more risks in an effort to stand out in a very crowded market. Struggling traditional giants Aston Villa have formed a tripartite agreement to produce their kit between Fanatics and Luke 1977, a Birmingham based fashion brand .

The shirt has been a critical and commercial success, cosigned by GQ and selling 750% more than the previous season. The fact that Luke Roper, creator of Luke 1977, is a lifelong Villa fan makes the collaboration all the more appropriate. He also has a complementary range of club affiliated casual wear coming out shortly.

Perhaps the next innovation is to run seasonal collections, like a fashion house. The clubs already have a range of apparel but they could make a spectacle of each season’s collection and potentially collaborate with higher end or more obscure brands. PSG have made their launch into a big spectacle and the Nigeria kit also had supplementary Nike items like bucket hats and sliders.

I suspect that before long we will see a larger fashion house collaborate with a football club, whether that’s a full Off White x Nike tie up for a team or whether PSG go full Louis Vuitton when their Air Jordan deal expires. Someone like Supreme would really get some buzz around a kit launch and would be a tie up between seemingly evergreen skate culture and football.

The opportunities to make an impression are too great to pass up in the digital age and any positive noise around a team can only help in the brand era. After all, only one team can win on the field each year; several can win off of it.