Photographs Courtesy Burberry, Jazz Grant, and Getty Images
As football expands as a multibillion-dollar industry, with Deloitte reporting that the estimated worth of the European football market is 25.2 billion euros (28.4 billion U.S. dollars), luxury fashion brands have begun utilizing more football players for marketing campaigns and collaborations. Some key contributions to the global rise in popularity of football, also known as soccer in the United States, would be the simplicity of its rules and the low cost to play. More specifically, football’s socioeconomic accessibility allows a larger variety of individuals to connect with the sport, empowering football and its fans to transcend possible cultural and geographical barriers.
In efforts to understand why luxury brands – such as Dior and Louis Vuitton – are currently seeking football players as brand ambassadors, it is critical to evaluate the role that social media plays in extending the cultural influence of football players beyond the sport itself. Notably, the U.S. women's national soccer team (USWNT) – as well as other women’s professional sports leagues – exemplifies how social media can be wielded to combat gender discrimination and to call out unequal compensation for women’s sports teams compared to their male counterparts. Following a content analysis of the two United States Soccer Federation (USSF) Twitter accounts for the women’s and men’s soccer teams, a 2014 study conducted by Dr. Roxane Coche found that the USSF frames the women’s team as being less important than the men’s team. This highlights the effort and dedication that many individual USWNT players put into building their social media presence, considering the difficulty of building a platform with a parent company that is against their female players from having one comparable to their male players. Additionally, many of the USWNT players have used their influence to start discussions on discriminatory practices in soccer and systemic injustices. For example, USWNT defender Crystal Dunn utilizes her platform to vocalize concerns on soccer being a predominantly white sport and has previously shared that she “was the only Black girl growing up on [her] team up until [she] was about 15 years old.” The advancements of social media have arguably broadened the opportunities for football players – especially those belonging to historically marginalized groups – to elevate their branding as both cultural icons and social activists.
The rebranding of football players as globally influential figures and activists through social media has resulted in more sponsorships and collaborations, especially with luxury fashion brands. Manchester United football player Marcus Rashford, who has previously used his platform to campaign against the British government’s decision to revoke free school meals during the 2020 national lockdown, recently wore Burberry to receive his MBE, member of the order of the British Empire award. Alongside choosing Burberry to style him for this prestigious event, Rashford has also worked with the luxury brand to fund 200,000 meals for over 11,000 charity groups since 2020. While football players expand their influence through social media, luxury fashion brands are employing more of these football players as they not only know how to cultivate an audience but also can promote more of the brand’s socially conscious values.