Why Puma’s Borussia Dortmund Jersey Controversy Was A Risk Worth Taking
Borussia Dortmund’s controversial badge-less jersey managed just one game.
Following its Champions League opener against Besiktas in Istanbul, where the German giants debuted a fluorescent shirt with ‘BVB 09’ written instead of a club crest, the bold design was altered.
A traditional bold BVB logo was added to the jersey which had previously carried only a translucent version of the badge.
Supporters can take against jerseys but the groundswell of opinion against this number was unprecedented.
Fans in the famous ‘yellow wall’ stand at the Signal Iduna Park stadium unfurled a giant yellow and black banner with the words “das cuptrikot muss weg!” Or “the cup kit must go.”
And go it did.
Not only was the jersey changed, Puma’s chief executive officer, Bjørn Gulden, said sorry to fans of the club in which the sportswear giant holds a 5% stake.
“We regret the anger of the fans and would like to apologise,” said Gulden, who is a former Bundesliga soccer player himself.
“The criticism from the fans relates to the fact that the BVB logo is simply incorporated several times in the tone-on-tone material and is engraved on the chest of the shirt, but it isn’t clearly highlighted as the club’s crest.”
Puma was clearly trying to do something new when it launched the jersey along with a whole host of groundbreaking designs this summer, but it surely didn’t think it would be forced into a UEFA-approved redesign so soon.
The risk of ‘reinterpreting club identity’
Last month Puma proudly announced to the world of soccer it wanted to change the game.
10 new jerseys were launched for a selection biggest European clubs the manufacturer supplies, including Manchester City, AC Milan, Marseille, Valencia and Fenerbahce.
All were subtly different in colour and style, but the major design alteration was the same. The club crest had been relocated on the back of the shirt and a big block of writing was the clear identifier of which the club the jersey was for.
If fans were shocked, they were supposed to be. The point, according to Puma’s official press release, was to “rewrite the rules and reinterpret iconic club identity.”
“Our aim was to challenge traditional football jersey design,” explained Puma’s senior head of design manager teamsport, Carl Tuffley,
“We wanted to look at the kits through a new lens and push the boundaries as far as possible. It is easy to play safe, but we want to change perceptions of a conventional football jersey.”
“Third kits are an opportunity to be bold, so we wanted to re-energize these jerseys and take a new direction.”
The ‘new direction’ certainly caused a stir and there has been a huge online reaction to the jerseys.
Many fans were either angry about the apparent lack of badge or they just simply didn’t get it and, when a clip went viral of a Fenerbache striker clasping in vain at his jersey looking for a badge to kiss, it appeared neither might some of the players.
The benefits of controversy
The internet has revolutionised the soccer jersey launch.
What used to involve a couple of first-team players walking around the stadium for a splash in a few papers is now a high-end fashion launch in an exotic location.
But the immediacy of the internet and the volume of new jerseys released by clubs every year makes it harder for these showpiece events to cut through.
The Premier League alone churns out around 50 new products each summer, many of which are barely worn and fade into the ether.
A jersey launch competes in the attention economy with news about new signings and the focus of fans can quickly shift.
So in this regard, the Puma third kits have been a success, everyone is talking about the brand.
But then again, the German sportswear firm is no stranger to controversy.
The supplier spent two decades manufacturing the Cameroon national team jerseys and used it as an opportunity to really upset the applecart.
First, there was the 2002 sleeveless jersey, which was banned by FIFA and required black sleeves to be added for the World Cup that year.
Two years later, Puma infuriated soccer’s rule-makers with a one-piece outfit described as “against the laws of the game” by then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
When Cameroon wore the bodysuit at the 2004 African Cup of Nations they were docked 6-points and fined by the governing body, although the punishment was later rescinded.
The dispute also saw Puma launch a lawsuit against FIFA.
As I pointed out earlier this month, having a jersey hit the headlines for any reason is normally beneficial for manufacturers whose primary concern is shifting products.
Maybe they have seriously annoyed some of the fanbases with the badge-less kits, but will these supporters stop buying jerseys in the future? It’s unlikely. Deliver a classic shirt that appeals to the traditionalists and the same critics will be likely to buy it.