Player power puts sponsors in a spin as Mbappé takes a stand

  • Elite players increasingly refusing to engage with brands they don’t approve of
  • Sponsor contracts with leagues and federations do not guarantee access to named individuals
  • Top players can ‘bully’ clubs and federations, but top clubs also bully players over image rights
In the 1974 World Cup final between Holland and Germany, the Dutch star Johan Cruyff caused a stir by refusing to wear the boots of adidas, the kit supplier of both teams. He felt more comfortable in his trusty Puma, with whom he had a personal sponsorship agreement. He even removed one of the famous three stripes on his shirt and shorts out of loyalty to his supplier. Behind the scenes, adidas huffed and puffed. But Cruyff was the biggest player on the planet. In one of the earliest exhibitions of player power in football, he did it his way.

Nearly 50 years later, football has evolved into a multi-billion-dollar business. Leagues and federations have the best lawyers that money can buy. Contracts are watertight and nothing is left to chance. Bust-ups like Cruyff v adidas can’t happen anymore. And yet…

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Fifa will almost certainly secure a big uplift in sponsorship income for the 2023-2026 cycle, culminating in the 2026 World Cup in the US, Mexico and Canada. However, it will struggle to achieve the kind of increase which Fifa president Gianni Infantino has mandated from his commercial team.

SportBusiness Sponsorship analysis indicates Fifa has generated around $1.74bn (€1.67bn) in sponsorship income during its 2019-22 sales cycle, a more than 4.5 per-cent increase from the previous four-year period when it generated $1.66bn from the sale of its marketing rights.

Red Bull Racing is targeting $30m in licensing revenue after deciding to split its apparel licensing category into five separate tiers once its current deal with Puma expires. 

Tyre brand will sponsor the German national team from 2023  The firm has bought the premium LED package for national team deals