Nike began its football journey back in 1971 with the release of “The Nike” football boot, the first shoe to bear the Swoosh. It cost $16.95, didn’t hold up well in cold and wet weather and soon fell by the wayside as Nike focused on running, tennis and basketball footwear. But it was a start.
Over decades, Nike learned from athletes, research and testing how to create football products that defy expectations and help players around the world raise their game. These are the pivotal moments in Nike’s history that helped shape a new era of brilliant football.
Nike kicks off football the same way Phil Knight built a running business: in the company’s backyard, working closely with athletes. Nike’s original football division signs the Portland professional team to an equipment deal (the jersey shown here is from the 1979 season). Within two years, Nike signs contracts with 10 regional associations and nearly 40 players.
Aston Villa clinches Europe’s top club prize with all Villa players wearing Nike boots.
Nike signs legendary goal-scorer Ian Rush as the first star Nike Football athlete, and Sunderland F.C. becomes first team in Europe to wear a Nike kit. The same year in Spain, Steve Archibald becomes the first player in Nike boots to score a goal in football’s biggest tournament.
Former University of North Carolina phenomenon Mia Hamm becomes NIke's first signed woman football player and one of the first in the U.S. with a paid sports endorsement deal. Hamm goes on to set the record for most international goals scored, regardless of gender, which she held until Nike athlete Abby Wambach broke it in 2013.
In the final in California, eight of Brasil’s 22 players wear Nike Tiempo Premier boots. Brasil is crowned champions for a fourth time following a penalty shoot out. Two days after the final, NIKE, Inc. Chairman and Co-founder Phil Knight openly sets his sights on sponsoring the Brasil national team.
Nike signs a contract as uniform and apparel sponsor for the U.S. Soccer Federation men’s and women’s national teams. In 2013, Nike extends the deal through 2022. “The partnership reinforces Nike’s leadership in football, as we continue to deliver game-changing innovations on the pitch and share the same vision to further grow the sport as a whole in the U.S.,” said Nike Brand President Trevor Edwards.
Nike makes its commitment to the world’s most popular sport undeniable by signing the CBF – the Brasilian Football federation — making good on Phil Knight’s belief that “We will only truly understand football when we see the game through the eyes of Brasilians.”
Nike invests in boot quality and establishes a football boot factory in ancient cobbling capital Montebelluna, Italy, leading to the 1997 Air GX. The Montebelluna facility remains key for development and testing and for all big boot projects, including this year’s Magista Obra and Mercurial Superfly. 1996: The U.S. women’s national team wins gold in the first Olympic women’s soccer final in Atlanta. Nigeria, signed by Nike in 1994, also takes the top spot on the podium.
The U.S. women’s national team wins the first gold ever in the women’s soccer final in Atlanta. Nigeria, signed by Nike in 1994, also takes the top spot on the podium.
Nike wear-tests a premium boot made of new synthetic leather — the first of its kind — with players. The athletes like them so much, they refuse to hand them back. The following year in France, the new Mercurial boot debuts on Ronaldo’s feet on football’s biggest stage.
For the first time, Nike showcases a team instead of an individual in a major commercial – the Brasil national team killing time and playing some sensational football in “Airport.” Directed by John Woo and shot in Rio de Janeiro airport, it built on the success of 1996’s “Good v. Evil” and expressed Nike’s philosophy of fast, freewheeling, creative and spontaneous football.
The U.S. women’s national team wins the game’s biggest prize 5-4 in a dramatic penalty kick shootout in California. Nike athlete Brandi Chastain memorably celebrates the winning goal in her sports bra, a prototype of Nike’s Inneractives line of bras and underwear.
Nike builds on the design philosophy of creating beautiful, athlete-informed apparel with body-mapping. The innovative approach leads to jerseys that meet the specific needs of footballers, with knit-in mesh panels for ventilation, thicker areas for warmth and a flexible, stretch-woven fabrication.
The year marks the start of a long-running relationship between Nike and Manchester United, the world’s best-known team. Nike becomes the team's offical supplier of kits and branded apparel beginning in 2002; the club regains the Premier League title at the close of the 2002-2003 season.
“The Secret Tournament” campaign is Nike’s largest, most globally coordinated effort to date. The ad features 24 Nike stars, with events in 13 countries and presence in 52. On the pitch in Japan, Brasil claim their fifth trophy, with two goals in the final from Ronaldo, tying the Brasilian record of 12 career goals on football’s greatest stage. He goes on to break the Brasil record – and the all-time tournament record – in 2006.
A snowstorm during an FA Cup match makes it impossible for linesman, commentators and 40,000 fans to see the white ball. Halfway through the game, an official replaces the sponsor’s ball with a blue-and-yellow Nike Total 90 Aerow Hi-Vis Premier League ball, the first of its kind. Nike now provides the match ball for the world’s top three leagues and the FA Cup.
A three-minute video entitled “Ronaldinho, A Touch of Gold” pops up on the upstart website YouTube. Created to launch a new version of the Tiempo boot, it shows Brasilian star Ronaldinho firing a ball off a crossbar four times in a row without the ball hitting the ground. It was quickly shared around the world, becoming YouTube’s first million-hit video. The era of viral video has arrived.
Nike goes digital with the “Joga Bonito” campaign. The new approach was a watershed moment in digital marketing at Nike, involving a partnership with Google to create a social networking site, a feed of content leading up to the tournament and promotion of extensive user-generated content
Nike club F.C. Barcelona completes the first treble won by a Spanish side and goes on an astounding, multi-year win streak that includes back-to-back-to-back La Liga titles. The club is celebrated for its philosophy of team-over-individual and fearless, attacking style of play.
Initially launched on Facebook, the “Write the Future” campaign extends beyond the football pitch and becomes (at the time) the most-shared campaign on the internet, with the three-minute ad becoming the fastest-spreading video in Nike Football history.
Nike’s Elite Pack for South Africa is an instant classic, with four football boot styles colored in the same shades of Mach Violet and Total Orange. Based on the concept of visual acuity, the colors were proven to provide the best contrast to the green pitch to better enable team-mates to spot each other.
For the first time, all nine of Nike’s national football teams—including Portugal, Brasil, The Netherlands and the U.S. — sport jerseys made entirely from recycled plastic water bottles diverted from landfills in Taiwan and Japan. Each jersey diverts eight water bottles from landfills. Since 2010, nearly two billion bottles — enough to cover 3,500 football pitches — have been salvaged and spun into recycled polyester products.
Designed for a new breed of attacker, the Hypervenom boot launches to help players create space quickly and get shots off from any angle. Nike gained insights from Neymar Jr. and Wayne Rooney to address the increased speed of the game. NIKESKIN innovation delivers a flexible mesh upper bound with a thin polyurethane film — as close as it gets to the feel of playing barefoot.
Nike introduces groundbreaking mid-cut boots with Nike Flyknit uppers: the Magista and Mercurial Superfly. The designs respond to how the game is changing, with the Magista specifically created for playmakers, and the Mercurial Superfly to equip the quickest players to take advantage of every split second. “New design innovations like Nike Flyknit technology provide a quantum leap forward in what boots can be — and what they can help players achieve,” said NIKE, Inc. President & CEO Mark Parker.
Nike’s epic four-minute “Winner Stays” ad starring Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr. and Wayne Rooney is an immediate sensation, earning more than 140 million views in its first month and setting the record for Nike’s most-viewed video on YouTube.
This summer in Brasil, Nike will field 10 teams on the pitch, more than any other brand. In just 20 years, Nike went from football newcomer to the game’s leading brand.