As a sixth grader growing up in suburban Chicago, I can absolutely remember the thirst every boy in my Jr. High had to strut the halls in a pair of Michael Jordan’s first sneakers. They carried our Bulls colors; more importantly, they carried that iconic Air Jordan logo.
I didn’t know it then, but I certainly know it now: 1985 was the year that athletes officially became brands. Sure, you had household name baseball, basketball, football, etc. players for decades before that, but none were packaged the way Nike began with “His Airness” in the mid-80s.
Fast forward 30 years and athlete commercialization is so the norm that sports video games now make earning a shoe deal part of the competition.
Soccer players are in no way immune to this phenomenon; in fact, our sport’s biggest celebrities are second only to basketball in terms of logo quantity but they’re undoubtedly first in terms of global influence. Some of the most notable are below:
- ROW ONE: Leo Messi / Cristiano Ronaldo / Cristiano Ronaldo
- ROW TWO: Johan Cruyff / David Beckham / David Beckham
- ROW THREE: Ronaldinho / Neymar, Jr. / Pele
While most of these logos go down well with fans, it has to be said that the marketplace is getting quite watered down. With this, the threshold for who deserves to be put on such a pedestal seems to get lower and lower each year.
More worrisome is the lack of simplicity in many of the more recent designs. Enter example “a”, the newest logo from adidas + Real Madrid star winger Gareth Bale. We understand the inclusion of three stripes, along with the two important stripes that signify Bale’s playing number (11) and geometric interpretation of his heart-shaped goal celebration, but we’d have to agree with the critique of many on social media that felt this mark was much too inspired by science fiction.
At the end of the day, my point-of-view is that these athlete logos should be simple in design, easy to understand and timeless. Visual identity for these marks should mirror the excellence being displayed by players on the field.
Of all I’ve seen across the soccer landscape, my favorite remains David Beckham’s original:
Maybe this is where the sixth grader in me has never left, but I believe this mark is almost on par with the Jordan Jumpman (the mark that replaced his original Air Jordan logo in 1988). It highlights an aspect of Beckham’s game that helped make him the star he is today, and the design is spot on with its unmistakable resemblance.
So here’s where this story comes a bit full circle, as Jordan brand’s PR team starts to release more information around Neymar becoming the first soccer player to wear a Jumpman mark on his own line of lifestyle sneakers: the Air Jordan 5 Low.
This is a pretty big honor for Neymar, and an interesting play by Nike. Rumor has the brand considering elevating him above Ronaldo as the face of Nike Soccer ahead of World Cup 2018.
Truly rarefied air, I’d say.