U.S. Soccer’s New Nike Deal Is Its Biggest Ever Partnership

U.S. Soccer has extended its apparel partnership with Nike, a 10-year deal that is the largest—and longest—commercial partnership in the governing body’s history.

Nike will continue to outfit the men’s and women’s national teams, plus the U.S. Soccer Federation’s youth, futsal, paralympic and beach teams. The Oregon-based apparel giant (NYSE: NKE) will also help support the organization’s marketing, grassroots programs and its sustainability efforts.

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“Nike gets involved at every level,” U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said in an interview. “Their ability to help us tell our story, and our athletes’ stories, is huge. And then to drive cultural relevancy off the field in terms of bridging the gap between soccer and art, lifestyle, music. Nike is going to help us and our athletes do all of those things.”

U.S. Soccer called the extension “one of the largest investments in global soccer,” but declined to provide specifics.

The deal comes amid a much wider shift in how U.S. Soccer approaches its commercial deals. In May, the organization announced that it was splitting from MLS-owned Soccer United Marketing (SUM), which has handled most of its commercial rights over the past two decades. The apparel deal has always been negotiated by U.S. Soccer itself, but starting at the end of next year, the group will also bring its media rights, non-apparel corporate partnerships and consumer product rights in house.

Revenue from all those deals may also be shared in new ways. The organization is still locked in a very public legal battle with its women’s national team over equal pay. U.S. Soccer is currently holding labor talks with the players’ associations for both the men’s and women’s national teams, and has separately offered both an identical contract structure that includes revenue-sharing.

“We’re a 501(c)3 national governing body, and it’s a really unique position,” David Wright, U.S. Soccer’s chief commercial officer, said in an interview. “But the benefit of how we’re structured is that every single dollar that’s invested with U.S. Soccer goes back into the growth of the game. So we’ve got 23 national teams—including senior national teams, extended national teams at the youth level, then para, beach and futsal, which is all critically important to the growth of the game. And that will all benefit from the alignment with a brand like Nike.”

The new extension starts in January 2023 and covers a critical decade for soccer in the U.S. Not only is America jointly hosting the 2026 men’s FIFA World Cup, but the 2028 Summer Olympics will be in Los Angeles, and U.S. Soccer has been vocal about a potential bid to host the Women’s World Cup in 2031.

“So now you’ve got a 10-year run that is unlike any 10-year period for soccer in the U.S.,” Wright said. “And specific to our discussions, you can imagine there was some large interest from other global brands.”

Nike has been the U.S. Soccer partner since 1995, the year after the U.S. 1994 World Cup team wore denim-inspired Adidas kits (which Slate once called the “ugliest jerseys in U.S. Soccer history”). At the time, it was a big step for Nike, which was still primarily spending in running and basketball, and only just beginning to challenge Adidas in global soccer.

Now, however, Nike is one of the driving corporate forces behind the sport. And while U.S. Soccer did hear from other companies, Parlow Cone said it was a “no-brainer” to stick with the organization’s 25-year partner.

“Our values very much align, and our vision very much aligns,” she said. “It was really interesting when we pitched each other, we could have exchanged pitches because they were so similar. They could have presented ours, and we could have presented theirs. And in that moment, I knew that Nike was going to be the best partner for us.”

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