High-profile designer brands name multiple footballers as ambassadors

Karim Benzema put pen to paper on multiple deals over the summer with brands like Jean Paul Gaultier and Fendi. He’s not the only soccer player to do so, such as Jack Grealish with Gucci and Kylian Mbappe with Dior. (Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Fashion week is just about to end in Milan, with an array of high-end designer brands showcasing their new pieces for Spring-Summer 2023 and high-profile celebrities in attendance. With stars such as Brent Faiyaz, Normani, Leonardo Di Caprio and Kim Kardashian, the pull fashion week has on the world is apparent. Another celebrity in attendance to note is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, A.C. Milan’s striker, who is currently recovering from an ACL injury and pulled up to see what’s all the fun.

This article isn’t about fashion week in Milan though. The purpose of this is to highlight the recent transition of athletes becoming ambassadors for these designer brands, primarily in soccer.

Throughout history, sports brands tend to stick with players to represent their company, and designer brands have shied away from having athletes represent them as ambassadors. There’s the typical Nike and Adidas deals with superstar names signed to them, like the LeBrons, Ronaldos and Messis of the world. Recently though, that has started to change, mainly in soccer, where players like Jack Grealish and Karim Benzema are being named as ambassadors for Gucci and Fendi, respectively.

Grealish’s deal with the Italian fashion brand was one that shocked many, with Gucci signing him to a seven-figure deal, joining up with the likes of Harry Styles and Jared Leto along with others in this high-profile group. It was a bit of an odd one to look into considering the Englishman isn’t revered as the star of his team, Manchester City, with many giving Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne that title. 

However, Grealish’s off-the-field antics have garnered a lot of attention and spotlight in English media, with his style and popularity reminiscent of that of David Beckham. He’s been seen as England’s it-boy for some time now, not only because of his stellar performances back when he was at Aston Villa, but also for his fashion and charm. With his pull, it’s clear to see why Gucci signed the 27-year-old, as he is one of the most marketable athletes in the U.K.

The aforementioned Benzema struck his own deal with Fendi three weeks ago to be their ambassador for the Fendi Faster Sneaker. Not only is the Frenchman known for being one of the best in the world right now, as he’s touted to win the Ballon d’Or this year, he’s also one of the more fashionable players out right now. He’s already had some collaborations with other brands and designers, like Jean Paul Gaultier, and Fendi just adds another to his fashion resumé.

Many other soccer players have gotten deals to sponsor or appear in designer brands, like Heung-min Son and Marcus Rashford’s respective partnerships with Burberry, and Hector Bellerin, who walked at Louis Vuitton’s Paris Show for Spring-Summer 2020. Bellerin is known as sort of fashion pioneer in the soccer world, with many looking at the Spaniard as the most fashionable baller out. Not to forget French superstar and potentially future G.O.A.T. Kylian Mbappe, who became an ambassador for Dior back in 2021.

It’s out of the ordinary for these brands to go for athletes to represent their name, as they tend to go with popular and/or fashionable musicians, actors and other celebrities to sport the brand. So why the change?

For starters, these players already have a large presence on social media. Mbappe has 72.6 million followers on Instagram and Benzema has 58.1 million. While Grealish may not have the same type of numbers, with only 5.3 million followers, he tends to have the traditional media’s eyes on him a lot. Along with that, these players star in their respective leagues and the UEFA Champions League, garnering the eyes of the viewers on soccer’s biggest stages.

Looking at Dior’s half-year report, they’ve seen a 28% increase in revenue from last year. Could that be due in part to Mbappe’s deal and his social media presence having value? Who knows, but from what is visible, it hasn’t done them any harm in making that deal. 

In terms of the soccer side of things, it gives the players a lens outside of their athletic talents. People want to see what these soccer players are wearing on social media because they have that notoriety of being fashionable. It doesn’t really put more eyes on screens for games; it’s moreso giving fans another way to connect with their favorite players.

All in all, the fashion industry has more to gain from this collaboration with soccer players than vice-versa. These deals are miniscule in comparison to these players’ salaries for their clubs. Grealish’s current contract at Manchester City has him making £300,000 a week, which makes the million-dollar deal with Gucci not look as impressive in comparison. It’s a marketing tactic for these designer brands to keep the public’s eyes on them and not lose their position at the top spot.