Opinion: Why sport takes top spot on the collab podium

Collabs. They’re everywhere. And with good reason. They broaden fanbases, build awareness, and boost revenues. Fashion and beauty are undoubtedly the king and queen of collabs. But the Kate Middleton of the collab world is sports.

Brand Licensing Europe’s EMEA account director Matthieu Battini

With a summer full of massive sporting events – yes, Paris Olympics 2024 and UEFA Euros 2024, we are looking at you – the eyes of the world are firmly on the sports world.

With so many collabs hitting the market, it’s more important than ever for brands to be authentic and collaborate with partners to create consumer products that add value and are not designed just to get the tills ringing.

That’s how to hit the true fandom nerve – create something your fans love but had no idea they wanted.

Brand Licensing Europe’s EMEA account director Matthieu Battini highlights sports brand collabs that deserve a spot on the podium and the tickle of a national anthem.

Allez les bleus

The Olympic Games offer a unique opportunity to build a brand and licensing programme that appeals to a global audience borrowing from the values intrinsic to its host country. This summer, that country is France, and the Paris 2024 team has created a love letter to French brands that highlights French craftmanship and creativity.

Partners include LVMH Group (which owns Dior, Louis Vuitton, Moët Hennessy and Sephora, an official partner of the Olympic and Paralympic Torch Relays), Lacoste, Perrier, Evian, Decathlon and Monnaie de Paris.

But the collab that really makes me smile is Lego x Paris 2024, which will see the Danish toy giant tap into the lucrative kidult trend with sets depicting famous Paris landmarks and Olympic venues. It’s in a similar vein to the Tour de France x Lego collaboration, which lets fans build miniature versions of famous mountain stages and sprints from the Tour de France.

Euro 2024 collabs

For me, there is an element of the Euros 2024 playing safe and re-signing collabs with regular partners Topps, EA Sports, Adidas, but there are several national partners on the programme, too, which are interesting.

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Bitburger Brewery has designed limited edition beer packaging for the tournament, Lidl has Euros-themed food and Deutsche Bahn will provide special travel packages and promotions for fans traveling to Euro 2024 matches.

The partnerships that deliver a sprinkle of magic in my opinion from the fans’ POV are Pinata Smashlings, which should relay the excitement of the Euros to a younger audience, and Spotify, which will curate exclusive playlists and audio content related to the tournament, enhancing the fan experience with music that captures the spirit of the Euros.

Expect the unexpected

When it comes to sports collabs, traditional partnerships can be hugely successful, of course – think Tour de France x Rapha, Wimbledon x Ralph Lauren, Formula 1 x TAG Heuer and Roland-Garros x Lacoste, as can music partnerships like Nike x Travis Scott, Puma x Dua Lipa, Umbro x New Order et al.

But it’s the more quirky, creative, ‘outside the box’ partnerships that can often be the gold medal winners.

Ben & Jerry’s x Nike

One of my favourite collabs is Ben & Jerry’s x Nike – Chunky Dunky Madness. Nike’s partnership with Ben & Jerry’s on the Chunky Dunk in 2020 was (insert chef’s kiss emoji) a piece of marketing genius marrying two brands beloved by Gen Z and Gen A.

The Chunky Dunkys were an instant sell-out despite a £389 price point and are still being sold on resell websites for up to £3,000 a pair.

But it’s the world’s second biggest sports brand – Adidas – that, for me, seems to be leading the way in the cool stakes with some brilliantly inspired collabs that really tap into the fandom trend. From working with Stella McCartney since 2005 on her own luxe lifestyle Adidas range and the Team GB kits, to an entire range of (gender neutral) Adidas x Lego sports shoes and apparel.

Greater than the sum of their parts

There are also a number of triple brand collabs coming to the fore, such as Maharishi x Adidas x Arsenal – which is hard even for the Spurs fans I know to not love, with its range of very cool streetwear brilliantly tapping into the impressive reincarnation of Maharishi among millennials.

Adidas x Man Utd x The Stone Roses

Another of note is Adidas x Man Utd x The Stone Roses – which one of those Spurs fans admits is ‘incredible’.

Plus of course we also have Adidas Stan Smiths x The Simpsons (with Homer disappearing into the fluffy green heel) / Kermit the Frog / Monsters Inc, Adidas Gazelle x Mark Suciu (US skateboarder), Adidas Samba x Ronnie Fieg (owner of US retailer Kith) and Adidas x Bogey Boys (Macklemore’s golf and lifestyle brand).

Luxe sport appeal

While the obvious collabs marry two brands with the same target audience for instant success (see sports x music above), others choose partners with a smaller audience overlap to win new consumers.

This can be seen through the proliferation of football clubs all over Europe firmly hitching themselves to the brand licensing wagon and collaborating with high-end partners to deliver limited edition, luxury consumer products.

The other upside of this is, of course, the ability to demand a premium at retail.

Great examples of this are Inter Milan x Moncler, Paris Saint-Germain x Dior, Arsenal x Stella McCartney, Real Madrid x Zegan and Juventus x Palace x Adidas.

And outside of football the Porsche x Puma collab tied the classic Porsche pale blue with a cool, retro vibe, and Nike partnered with one of the hottest lifestyle brands of the moment, Jacquemus, to create a capsule collection of sportswear and accessories. It was an instant sell out.

Hoodies – featuring Swoosh shaped rips – and Swoosh shaped crossbody bags were priced at £180 and £400, respectively.

And there is much more where all of this came from. This September in London, Brand Licensing Europe will join brands, retailers and manufacturers together to discuss more collaborations, brand extension projects and ways to please fans.

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