Nike asserts ambitions in women’s sport with Paris mega-show for football World Cup kits
While France took the men’s title in Russia a year ago, 24 teams from FIFA’s six confederations will battle for the top title in women's football on French soil from June 7 to July 7.
Kit sales and sponsoring contracts in women's football aren’t of the same order of magnitude as in the men’s game nowadays. Yet, Nike invested a great deal in the presentation of the kits for the 14 national teams it will outfit at the women's World Cup, staging a bold, high-impact show at the Palais Brongniart in the heart of Paris on March 11. It was a first, as is the fact that Nike’s national team outfits have now been designed specifically for female players.
The show was held in the main hall of Paris’s former stock exchange building, on a central stage surmounted by a huge mirror. In semi-darkness, the background music throbbing with a heavy bass beat was gradually overlaid by football chants. Then the orange light illuminating the side galleries switched off, and the Nike show started. Its message was clear: Nike is reaching out to all women. An inclusive approach made manifest by presenting women of different ages and origins, including women with disabilities or who wear veils - the latter currently a contentious topic in France. The show started with a nod to fashion, with highly feminine, colourful looks, oversized dresses, sporty outfits and tracksuits, in a variety of styles inspired by different cultures.
Then the focus veered towards lifestyle, dipping into Nike and Jordan’s women’s collections with a mix of sportswear and streetwear items, from skirts to loosely cut tops in an eclectic palette including white, fluorescent yellow, sheer effects, pastel hues like red clay, and black and white combinations. The models strutted on the rotating stage, before players from each of the 14 Nike-outfitted national teams, with a youth player alongside them, stepped in to present the kits, striking a combative pose on the central platform which was then raised five metres in the air, in a perfectly staged final set.
Of course, the show’s centrepiece were the kits of the national teams from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, South Africa, South Korea, the UK and the USA, each made in yarn derived from recycled plastic bottles.
“We hope that this event will encourage more and more women around the world to practice sports,” said Sarah Hannah, vice-president global marketing EMEA for Nike Women’s, who did not indicate any target for the kits’ sales.
For the new World Cup kits, Nike has redesigned both jerseys and shorts with the help of the group’s creative laboratory, the Nike Science Lab, devising new prints and details.
Proof of the US group’s interest in the event was big boss Mark Parker’s presence at the show, a presence that was remarkable also in the wake of the harassment scandal which involved several Nike executives last year. A general clean-up seems to have followed, and Nike presented a high-impact advertising video on the success and dedication of female athletes. Indeed, more than a passion for women's football or the company's global brand image, Nike was keen to promote its entire women’s sportswear range.
Since 2015, Nike has focused on women’s apparel and equipment as a genuine growth driver. At the time, then-General Manager Mark Parker announced that the group was planning to almost double its women's products’ revenue by 2020, from $5.7 billion to $11 billion.
In order to do so, Nike wants to increase the number of female sport practitioners. “For us, athletes are the first drivers. We put them centre stage because young girls need to have role models to make them dream and take up sports,” said Hannah. “We then have a strong presence among youngsters, and we want to be able to give all women the opportunity to access sports,” she added.
Even more than football jerseys, Nike seems to have picked the sports bra as the product it can leverage to achieve this. Nike staff explained that the brand has worked extensively to broaden its range to 57 different types of bra, as opposed to about 40 a year ago. The FE/NOM Flyknit Sports Bra will be Nike’s signature product at the World Cup. “It will be our hero item for the competition, worn by the majority of players,” said Hannah.
The first Nike women’s kit not to be a smaller-sized replica of a men’s item dates back ‘only’ to the mid-90s and was a basketball kit. Now, the sport giant is stepping up the pace. Football kits have been redesigned for women, and so have lifestyle products. Nike recently introduced its first sneakers exclusively conceived for women. The commercial results have been very positive according to the group, and the range will soon include more models. Enough to fuel the goddess of victory’s tremendous ambition.
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