It’s been interesting watching the first couple of weeks of NRL action, taking note of what boots the marquee players have been wearing and speculating about what kind of individual sponsorship deals and contracts they might have.
English Football is a great example of how much money, time and energy boot manufacturers put in to promoting their product, with extremely lucrative contracts on offer for the top players. It’s no surprise to see global giants adidas and Nike grabbing a huge piece of the pie in that market, with their success almost inevitable due to their seemingly limitless budget.
But over in Australia, in a competition which unquestionably features a host of the world’s premier players, and indeed a handful who will go down as some of the greatest to ever play Rugby League, there seems to be little interest from these major companies.
One of the biggest names, who courts the most media attention, is obviously Sonny Bill Williams, and we were expecting to see him become a pin-up boy for Nike’s new Mercurial Vapor IXs upon his return to League.
But despite Sonny Bill shunning adidas for Nike in his final weeks as a Rugby Union player in New Zealand the American company obviously wasn’t particularly worried about what he was going to wear in the NRL, with Williams surprising us all by sporting a pair of Asics boots as he made his debut for the Roosters.
There are numerous other examples of reasonably high profile players wearing unusual boots, suggesting very few players in the NRL represent an attractive-enough marketing proposition to pique the interest of the big players in the apparel world.
Manly and NSW fullback Brett Stewart has been wearing a pair of Warrior Skreamers’, Tigers captain Robbie Farrah and Kiwi-star Benji Marshall are both in boots by X-Blades, and Sharks playmaker Todd Carney has been wearing Umbros, a boot almost exclusively associated with football.
It appears that adidas only have one big name in their camp, that of Melbourne Storm fullback Billy Slater, who wears their F50 speed boot, suggesting most other players who are sporting the three stripes on their boots have had to pop down to their local retailer and shell out their own hard-earned for the opportunity to wear their boots.
Nike is similar, with Queensland skipper Cameron Smith apparently the only Rugby League player in their extensive world-wide stable of sporting stars. It puts in to perspective how much of these companies’ earnings are generated by Football, and how little focus they actually have on Rugby League, and for that matter most any other sport.