From Tidal’s partnership with Arsenal, to PSG’s collaboration with Jordan Brand, Danny Keegan explores the game’s attempts to engage with the culture
It has been said before that selling football to the black community is akin to selling ice to the Eskimos. Most youngsters are handed a ball the moment they take to a baby walker – the game pretty much sells itself and is culturally ingrained in both African and West Indian households. However, this has not stopped the industry’s efforts in marketing to this significant and potentially lucrative demographic.
A Premier League team who have cottoned on to this is Arsenal. The club have been noted for their high proportion of black supporters – something that was touched upon here after Arsene Wenger announced he was stepping down at the end the of the 2017/18 season. The Gunners have a huge following across Africa and the team has resonated with black fans across the globe as a result of Wenger’s recruitment policy.
These determining factors, among others, caught the attention of potential investors in the shape of music mogul and entrepreneur Shawn Corey Carter aka Jay-Z. Having amassed a personal wealth in excess of $900m, Carter expressed an interest in buying Arsenal back in 2010. Fast forward to 2018 and Jay, by way of his music streaming platform Tidal, put pen to paper on a deal said to be worth a cool £1m which enables Platinum and Gold Arsenal members access to over 50 million songs, 200,000 videos, curated playlists and a variety of exclusive live streaming content.
This partnership marked a first of its kind in English football and signals the strategic intent of the commercial directors of the club who have also gone on to finalise deals to play one leg of their 2019 pre-season tour in Uganda.
Another organisation to jump aboard the Africa gravy train is Fifa, football’s world governing body. In 2004 the then President Sepp Blatter announced that South Africa would host the 2010 World Cup. Billed as Africa’s first World Cup, the tournament opened to much fanfare and was ultimately declared a success. Ghana’s quarter-final run and the distinctive sounds from the vuvuzelas in particular left a lasting legacy.
Despite the Rainbow Nation hosting its rugby equivalent 15 years previously in a post-apartheid, Nelson Mandela lead country, it was argued in the bidding process that a football World Cup would have more of a unifying factor due to the sport being considered a pastime favoured by the indigenous people of the land, something that wasn’t lost on the Fifa delegation team when casting their ballots.
As is with most big tournament events though, the measure of its success is not confined to on-field activities. The affiliated merchandise that South Africa 2010 put its name to as part of the competition ran into the hundreds and ranged from Panini football stickers, mugs, stationary and computer games.
Game developers EA Sports, who also hold the licence to the highly successful annual Fifa franchise, plugged a gap in the market when they released Fifa Street.
Unlike other football games such as Pro Evolution Soccer and International Superstar Soccer where the traditional 11-aside form of the game is played, Fifa Street pays homage to the pick-up version of the game while utilising urban backdrops as the settings for their five-aside matches.
So, while still being able to play as your favourite world stars, instead of playing at Old Trafford or the Nou Camp, gamers alternatively hone their skills in locations more familiar to themselves from the likes of inner London ball courts to indoor sports halls and everything in between.
Urban Freestyle Soccer, Acclaim’s less successful imitation, went one further by incorporating a Street Challenge story mode with the emphasis on beating a ‘rival gang’ on their ‘home turf’ after which having to defend your own turf/football court, all while competing in an array of street attire from hoodies, baggy jeans, vest tops and durags. All a bit sinister and some might even say corny on reflection.
Back in the real world, this hasn’t deterred top-flight clubs in courting the black coin through their sense of fashion. At the beginning of the 2018/19 season, Nike, official kit supplier of Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain, announced a crossover deal with Jordan Brand. As part of the collaboration, PSG’s Champions League home and away kits featured the famous Jumpman logo in place of Nike’s swoosh, a move Nike stablemate Michael Jordan described as in keeping with both institution’s standings.
Along with the playing jerseys, Nike’s strategy was to appeal to the wider cosmopolitan makeup of Paris by emblazoning the Jordan silhouette along with the club’s crest on hoodies, sneakers and basketball apparel. It was probably only fitting that this commercial merger took place in a city renowned as one of fashion’s epicentres. Paris has also been dubbed the City of Love. Here’s hoping the wider footballing industry continues in its efforts in promoting black culture and showing them the love.
Words by Danny Keegan