Leading sports brands like Nike and Adidas are "overspending" when it comes to the World Cup, according to New Balance's head of football. Yet despite the big budgets, they are leaving gaps which are being exploited by the challenger brand through a partnership with publisher Goal.
Kenny McCallum, general manager of global football at New Balance, opened up on how the brand will approach its first ever World Cup, having only being involved in the sport for three years. It will operate beneath the colossal influencer clashes of Nike and Adidas, the latter of which enlisted 56 A-listers across sport, music and culture accompanied with the lofty claim it "reenginered advertising".
In response, McCallum said: "Those at the top have lost focus and are possibly overspending. They are focusing on a top tier level so naturally that is leaving gaps for brands to exploit."
To fill such gaps, New Balance must be "genuine and authentic" in its team/player partnerships and the accompanying products, said McCallum. "You will not see the same brand statement applied to different clubs, we work with clubs to attach our sentiment to the audience... other brands, dare I say, just change up the colour and crest, but that is not our approach."
Its World Cup campaign, The Road to Moscow, will give a platform to YouTubers Theo Baker, Charlie Morley, Jemel One Five and Russian vlogger Alex Zhuravlev. They will traverse the country to uncover what makes it a desirable World Cup host, touching down in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Kazan and Moscow. The content will be seeded across New Balance Football's social channels and onGoal throughout the tournament.
They will showcase New Balance's footballers and the Otruska product line that launched one month ago from in a campaign conducted by creative agency Zak. Geared up in New Balance, the influencers will challenge local Russian teams to 4v4 games before clashing in a Moscow final. This content will run for the next month.
In domestic football, New Balance has on its books Champions League runners up Liverpool, Scottish champions Celtic, Portuguese Liga winners FC Porto and a stable of footballers who wear the trainers and gear.
At the World Cup it is sponsoring two underdog sides, Costa Rica, and Panama who are grouped with England and could causean Iceland at Euro 2016 scale upset. "We've got some great stories there," McCallum said. Especially if either rack up a few wins.
However, he is honest about where the Boston-founded brand is in football, saying it is "merely sat that beginning of the journey." He added: "To think we are competing with the top brands in the space from day one is not realistic."
Adidas' sponsorship of the World Cup is reported to cost $100m annually, and it will furthermore provide the appeal for 11 of the 32 teams at the tournament. Nike has 10. New Balance has to operate smarter than that. McCallum said: "There is budget available but it is not endless and it certainly wouldn't equate to the top brands in the marketplace."
Matt Bennett, chief creative officer at Zak, said: “We know that this audience wants to see more than just the traditional broadcast experience of the World Cup and just players and teams.
"Partnering with our YouTubers gave us a great opportunity to look at Russian Football from another perspective and create a real connection with the audience. As for the content, we want to give everyone an on-the-ground view of football culture in Russia and show the reality of the game, not just the gloss of the tournament.”
New Balance may be one of the few brands actually putting Russia at the front and centre of its creative. It started work on the Otruska content 18 months ago, committing to explore the nuances of the burgeoning World Cup host long before the flare up in political tensions between Russia and the west. Compare that to say ITV's promo creative which bears little mention of the host nation. It is not alone. On this distinction in approach, McCallum reflected: "It creates a space, if many brands are away from it, that makes our space bigger which is a good thing.
"Football captures a global interest. We committed to that plan some time ago, it is less about doing things in the country and more about amplification to a target from the country at the right time."
McCallum and his team will, however, remain vigilant to events on the ground in Russia. "We have monitored the political situation but there is no getting away from the fact that the tournament will take place in Russia. Football is the focal point so we will focus on that. If we have to react, we potentially will. But we are focused on football from a Russian culture perspective. That was always the plan and I believe the audience is interested in that."
Reflecting on three years in football at New Balance, McCallum concluded: "We've learned a great deal. The marketplace is dominated primarily by two brands, possibly three, and what we consistently hear is that it is saturated, and there is still a space as people are looking for something different. That is our opportunity."