Aston Villa have secured a long-term deal with Nike who will become the club's official sportswear partner from the 2007-2008 campaign.
The deal will see Nike supply Villa's playing and replica kit in addition to a full range of branded sportswear and accessories.
Villa's new chief executive Richard FitzGerald told: 'This is a significant step forward for the club off the field and we're delighted to have Nike partnering with us.
'The association will help us to drive the club forward. The brand sits perfectly with the new board's vision for Aston Villa and we're looking forward to working with Nike in the future.'
Jim Allaker, vice-president and general manager of Nike UK, said: 'Aston Villa is a major club with a fantastic history and a massive fanbase.
'We're delighted they will be joining the Nike family, which already includes national teams such as Brazil and the Netherlands and clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Celtic and FC Barcelona.
'We're very excited to be part of the club's future and we anticipate a long and successful partnership.'
what the nike deal really means for Villa
Aston Villa today announced a "long term" partnership with American sportswear giant Nike. The fans have long clamoured for an association with one of the major players in technical sponsorship, and now their wish has finally come true. But aside from having a new brand mark on the shirt, what else could the Nike deal mean to Aston Villa and it's long suffering supporters?
The timing of this deal says a lot more for the current status of the club than may be obvious at first glance. Since the arrival of Randy Lerner and his band of merry men, things have been looking up in B6 – new signings, a new training ground and the renovation of the Holte Hotel being the three most obvious signs that the times they are a-changing.
The times are a-changing at Nike too, though, and gone are the days where adding to the sports marketing portfolio was as simple as making a phone call to the commercial director at Leeds United or Sunderland. That was all about exposure and getting as much coverage as possible in the UK market (and also overseas). These days a much more tactical approach is taken, with several clubs shed from the honour roll in recent seasons and several more expected to follow in the future. A concentrated effort around big names like Arsenal, Manchester United, Celtic, PSG, Porto, Brazil, and the recently re-signed Barcelona means that Nike football is now much less about quantity and much more about quality.
Talk on the messageboard has speculated that one of the club’s non-executive directors, Bob Kain, may have called this deal in as a favour. Well if he has it would be one hell of a favour given the amount of time and effort that goes into servicing a football club at any level of the professional game. Whilst the favour theory cannot be ruled out, it seems far more likely that Nike have also been sold the romantic vibes currently reverberating around the once dark corridors of football’s stately home.
After a disappointing 2006 where adidas and Puma battled out the World Cup final and Nike’s shirts didn’t generate the same amount of buzz as in 2002 and 2004, the American sporting behemoth are currently re-focussing in order to make up some lost ground on their three-striped rivals. As such, the signing of Aston Villa suggests that there is indeed a big plan in place at Villa Park and that all the hype surrounding the club may well be fully justified.
But what can the fans expect from the new collaboration? Well the fact that the details of the deal haven’t been released may imply that the actual base deal isn’t huge and the terms of the contract are much more geared around success through league placings, appearances on Sky, merchandise sales and, crucially, trophies. The same can be said of the duration of the contract – extension options potentially being in place on the premise that on and off pitch success is forthcoming. So in the short term it would be a shock if this summer saw a Nike financed assault on the transfer market. In the mid to long term we may see a Lerner financed building plan with the intention that costs are offset by victories, and ultimately a self sufficient business model in the style of Arsenal and Manchester United would be created.
Speculate to accumulate they call it, and it’s something which hasn’t been seen at Villa Park beyond the occasional glance across the A38 to watch a smaller version of the idea being carried out.
Alongside this, fans shouldn’t expect to see a clutch of Nike sponsored athletes arriving at Villa Park. Talk of players signing for teams based on who their kit supplier is has never been proven beyond speculation, and that speculation has generally centred around two to three players at most. So whilst Ronaldinho probably wont be strutting his golden “Swooshed” Tiempos in front of the Holte End next season it is likely that a number of the club’s less well known players and certainly the backroom staff will make the switch to Nike product. The supplier will obviously benefit from giving free products to the up and coming players such as Osbourne and Gardner who may not already have boot deals of their own.
One thing the fans CAN expect to see is more people strolling around proudly displaying the lion rampant on their chest. History shows that in the first season with a new supplier, particularly a large one, sales can double or triple but may peter out over time. It would be fair to expect Villa to be in the 50-80k league with the likes of Everton, but there is no reason why the exposure and extended distribution offered by Nike can’t see that number dramatically increase – particularly if coupled with performance on the pitch. Obviously this will lead to an enhanced reputation for the club and will generate further success and sales. It’s a simple equation.
So how big has the fan impact been on this deal? One thing that is certain is that this partnership hasn’t come about as a result of the fans “asking” for it. No amount of fan pressure on the club would lead to a top sports industry executive casually signing a multi-million dollar cheque. Unless it was to pay for a new South American striker in order to silence the critics…
Of course the Swoosh can be seen on the likes of Walsall and Rotherham, so why haven’t Villa associated themselves with a mega-brand before? It’s simply down to money. Hummel, Reebok, Umbro, or whoever, were laying down the best offer at the time. Walsall et al will either be paying a nominal sum for their kit or will be getting it free in order to enable Nike to penetrate micro markets and gain “local hero” status. A deal with the likes of Villa is much more complex in terms of design approval, distribution, supply and, naturally, that golden bottom line.
The kit itself is a contentious issue amongst supporters. Nike have a recent history of performance innovation – the ill-fated “Cool Motion” shirt at the 2002 World Cup and the more successful “Total 90” follow up in 2004. The 2006 offering didn’t call out much in the way of industry leading technicality but it would be fair to expect to see that rectified in time for 2008. Despite the commendable efforts of some of the members of VillaTalk, it would be a fair assumption that the 2007/8 kit design is already finalised (or very close to being) and equally that the designs for 2008/9 will be presented to the Villa board with the next 8-12 weeks. Give the length of time that goes into designing, testing, approving and producing a football shirt, this is the reality of the situation. Hummel made a bold statement around involving fans in the kit design. It’d be a big surprise to see Nike doing the same. That said, it’s not impossible.
The shirt itself will unlikely be a unique silhouette, but it would also be a big surprise if it were just a coloured up or graphicised version of what either Manchester United, Arsenal or Celtic will be wearing. The nature of the collaborations with those clubs is probably such that they wont allow another local (i.e. British) club to have the same shirt. The rules don’t apply to teams elsewhere, though, so we may see the same cutting lines as, say, Inter Milan but with the obvious adjustments made. Of course this depends on Nike’s sports marketing/design strategy going forward.
With 2007 being such an important year for Aston Villa - the 25th anniversary of the date they on the European Cup, no less – it would be the fans’ dream to see a modern interpretation of the kit worn on that glorious night.
It would be fair to expect that dream to be fulfilled by the Nike designers. Not simply because it would gain instant kudos with the fans, but because 26th May 1982 holds a special place in the hearts of Nike, too.
As Bayern Munich stepped out onto the field dressed head to toe in adidas, the feet of Aston Villa’s players gave a worldwide début to Nike’s first attempt at “soccer” boots. We all know the result that night – Villa, and Nike footwear, crowned Champions of Europe at the first attempt. Quite a tale, and more than a hint of romance about it too.
But, just as Villa, Nike football disappeared into the wilderness almost immediately after that victory. Whilst Nike’s resurrection came a lot sooner than that of Aston Villa, only the most cynical supporter would deny themselves the opportunity to draw comparisons tonight and dream of their beloved club mirroring Nike’s return to glory.
It would be a golden moment in more ways than one - for the fans, for the players and, of course, for that all important bank balance.