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Why luxury fashion brands and footballers are a perfect match

Tom Bottomley
29 June 2022

The signing by Burberry this month of Tottenham Hotspur football star, and captain of the South Korea national team, Son Heung-Min (pictured above), as its new brand ambassador, further cements the growing relationship between luxury brands and top level footballers.

Son has over 7.2 million followers on Instagram and a wide reach in the Asian market that Burberry cannot help but benefit from hugely. To top it all off he’s a nice guy, an influencer dream.

We’ve been here before with Burberry, as the brand was quick to jump on Manchester United and England ace Marcus Rashford’s rise to prominence outside of football through his child poverty campaigning during the early days of the Covid pandemic in 2020.

Burberry astutely signed Rashford up for his first ever fashion campaign for AW20, and pledged to invest in youth centres. Not only did that make the brand look ever more relevant, it also made it look like a force for good. And the social media coverage went nuts accordingly. Rashford himself has 12.7m followers on Instagram.

Marcus Rashford © Courtesy of Burberry – Rafael Pavarotti

Marcus Rashford © Courtesy of Burberry – Rafael Pavarotti

Additionally, Levi’s signed Rashford in April 2021 to front its ‘Buy Better, Wear Longer’ sustainability campaign, along with a raft of other key names. In November 2021, Rashford was awarded an MBE for his campaign to support vulnerable children. Like Burberry, no doubt Levi’s greatly benefitted from its association with the player, and continues to do so for SS22 with its latest campaign celebrating the 150th anniversary of the brand’s iconic 501 jeans.

Indeed, it’s not just been luxury brands getting in on the huge appeal of footballers. In December 2020, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Brazil superstar Neymar signed a three-year deal to front Superdry’s new organic cotton underwear campaigns.

Neymar for Superdry

Then Jack Grealish, who signed for Manchester City in August 2021 for £100m  - the biggest transfer deal in British football history – landed a six-figure deal for campaigns with BoohooMAN. Grealish’s stocks rose further when he penned an “unprecedented” seven-figure sponsorship deal with Gucci in April this year.

That came after PSG and France international Kylian Mbappé, who has a huge 71.9m followers on Instagram, became Dior’s global ambassador in December 2021. That Grealish (5m followers on Instagram) was a fan of Gucci anyway – often photographed out and about wearing pieces from the brand, and likewise Mbappé a fan of Dior, helped to seal the lucrative deals because there were already genuine connections.

Back to the more mainstream, and fellow France international Antoine Griezmann was unveiled as the face of Mango menswear for SS22, and the trend for fashion brands linked with footballers looks set to continue.

Antoine Griezmann for Mango

Kanya Nanayakkara, Head of Brand Marketing at Tribe Dynamics, an influencer marketing analytics platform that helps brands monitor and benchmark the performance of their Earned Media Value (EMV), said: “Celebrity partnerships have long been a cornerstone of luxury brands’ marketing strategies, with storied labels inviting models and actors to front campaigns.

“Recently, several iconic brands have ignited conversation by teaming up with a different cohort of stars: professional footballers. Thanks to these athletes’ massive, deeply passionate fanbases, football players have proven impactful luxury ambassadors, generating significant engagement on social media and unlocking new audiences for brands.”

Another big gun of the footballing world that brands still find powerful for his mass pull is former Manchester United and England star David Beckham, possibly the first of the modern-day footballing celebrities known for his love of fashion that brands seized on to.

David Beckham Dior

David Beckham and DIOR have a long-standing association. Image: Alamy

Beckham has 74.1m followers on Instagram and Dior (UK), among many other brands, has continued to benefit from its longstanding relationship with him. Beckham’s most impactful piece of recent content was an Instagram post chronicling the April wedding of his son Brooklyn, who wore a custom Dior suit for the occasion.

Then there’s the two biggest and, arguably, best ever footballers on the planet to consider. Cristiano Ronaldo boasts a staggering 456m followers on Instagram – something Nike benefits from massively from its sponsorship deal with him, and Lionel Messi has 339m Instagram followers, a nice touch for his sponsor, Adidas.

Juul Manders, CEO and Co-founder of footballer lifestyle brand BALR and Co-Founder and CEO of social football community, 433, which has over 70m followers on Instagram, commented: “Football is the biggest sport in the world and footballers are the biggest stars. With the rise of social media, their influence on things outside of the sport itself – fashion, lifestyle, music – has grown explosively. The new generation of players grew up with social media and knows exactly how to use it: they’re the perfect ambassadors for brands.

“Social media has made all high profile people - be it footballers, actors or musicians - more accessible and ‘real’ and this includes the gaffes. This authenticity is exactly what brands, even luxury brands, need to sell their product, especially to a younger audience.

“You can’t go wrong with someone like Mbappé. He has a huge reach in all demographics and has a strong social presence. He’s very authentic and in all ways a role model for the next generation.

“Someone like Son Heung-min has a huge cross-over appeal, both in the UK and Europe and in Asia. These are serious investments from brands that have to pay off on a global level. But this is a trend that is definitely here to stay.”

Earned Media Value (EMV) explained:

  • EMV is Tribe Dynamics’ proprietary metric for quantifying engagement with social media content about a brand that is created by a third party. EMV assigns a unique value to a piece of content based on the engagement it received from followers and other users.
  • EMV figures are stylised with a “$” to denote that EMV is associated with value. However, EMV is a metric for benchmarking digital engagement rather than direct revenue, so should not be interpreted as a specific currency.

The numbers from Tribe Dynamics:

David Beckham, Kylian Mbappé fuel Dior’s success across Europe:

Dior Mbappe

Kylian Mbappé for DIOR

Dior UK has continued to benefit from its longstanding relationship with David Beckham: from June 2021 to May 2022, the former footballer powered $707.2k EMV across six posts, a significant improvement upon his $288.1k via four mentions during the previous 12 months.

Beckham’s most impactful piece of content was an Instagram post chronicling the April wedding of his son Brooklyn, who wore a custom Dior suit for the occasion. The heartfelt Instagram, which garnered $217.7k EMV, proved Dior’s top EMV-driving post by any creator over the time period monitored. Altogether, Dior collected $150.9M EMV from June 2021 to May 2022, ranking as the UK’s number one luxury brand.

In France, Dior has ridden a wave of enthusiasm surrounding its partnership with Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappé, whom the brand appointed an official ambassador in December of 2021. Mbappé has been placed among Dior’s top 10 EMV-driving advocates over the past 12 months, generating $1.4M EMV across seven mentions.

Bolstered by the athlete’s contribution, Dior France netted $114.5M EMV from June 2021 to May 2022, enjoying a 10% year-over-year growth.

Gucci’s new partnership With Jack Grealish prompts surge of enthusiasm:

While Manchester City player Jack Grealish announced his partnership with Gucci just last May, the athlete has already made a significant contribution to the brand’s EMV performance.

Grealish shared his excitement about working with Gucci on Twitter and tagged the label in two Instagram Stories, driving a total of $89.3k EMV in May alone (in comparison, creators in Gucci’s community generated an average of $19.4k EMV each from June 2021 to May 2022).

In all, Gucci UK accrued $99.8M EMV over the past year.

Marcus Rashford leads conversation about Burberry in the UK:

Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford was ranked as Burberry’s single most impactful ambassador in the UK from June 2021 to May 2022, powering $2.1M EMV across 26 posts about the brand. Notably, Rashford outperformed Burberry’s number two earner, supermodel Naomi Campbell, by over $600k EMV.

The athlete sported Burberry pieces in lifestyle posts and participated in various brand-sponsored initiatives, including a mission-driven November campaign promoting access to literacy for children in underserved communities.

Rashford’s advocacy helped Burberry net $36.2M EMV from June 2021 to May 2022, a 10% year-over-year increase.

The Ronaldo and Messi impact:

Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have massive social followings: Ronaldo boasts 456M followers on Instagram, and Messi has 339M.

Both footballers are impactful advocates for athletic apparel and fitness brands: in the past six months, Ronaldo drove $1.4M EMV for Nike across eight posts, while Messi generated $845.2k EMV for Adidas across five posts.

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