Adidas's Criticism of Liverpool's Player May Hit Where It Hurts

Adidas's Criticism of Liverpool's Player May Hit Where It Hurts


has taken the unusual step of condemning Luis Suárez, who has a boot

deal with the company, in a sign of the potential negative commercial

Major brands

tend to shy away from criticizing their charges in the immediate aftermath of

controversial incidents, but the sportswear company took the unusual step of

issuing a strongly worded statement on Monday in the wake of Suarez's apology for


takes this type of incident very seriously and does not condone Luis Suarez's

behaviour," it said. "We

will be reminding him of the standards we expect from our players. Luis has

Adidas is no

longer Liverpool's kit supplier but its stance is indicative of the likely

impact on the player's personal brand and the danger of it having wider

Shortly after

being promoted to managing director by the Liverpool's then new owner, Ian Ayre

gave an interview to Management Today magazine. Not the usual platform for ambitious

football executives, perhaps, but Ayre wanted to emphasize the extent to which

he was planning to use the club's history and ongoing appeal overseas to revive


said to me recently that if you take a club like Manchester United, people

either love them or hate them – it's the Marmite effect. But with Liverpool

we're more like everyone's second favorite team," he told the magazine.

"So when you're responsible for selling and marketing the brand, you've

got to keep that in mind. Part of our attraction is that we're not

Deals such as

those with the club's shirt sponsor, Standard Chartered, which pays £20m a

season, and kit manufacturer Warrior, which pays £25m a year, show that the

club's global reach and perceived values have enabled them to continue to pull

Their annual

commercial income of £80.2m remains third, behind only Manchester United and


was partly the "Liverpool way" that attracted John Henry and his Fenway

Sports Group to Anfield in the

first place in 2010, after Tom Hicks and George Gillett were obliged to sell

up. Those same FSG executives looked on, as if unsure when and how to

intervene, as the club made a hash of their handling of Patrice Evra's

complaint of racism against Suárez – backing the player to the hilt even after

It was only when

the controversy over the affair reached the pages of the New York Times and

Boston Globe, amid rumours that a worried Standard Chartered had intervened,

that Henry and the chairman, Tom Werner, insisted on change of approach. By

contrast, the banking company that is emblazoned on the front of Liverpool's

shirts praised the club for dealing with the last 24 hours "appropriately

If those lessons

appeared to have been learned in PR terms, judging from the swift condemnatory

response issued on Sunday and the speedy fine administered on Monday morning,

Given the lack

of trophies in recent years, in some ways the Liverpool commercial model is

even more reliant than others on its image. Having built up a large overseas

fanbase in the 1970s and 1980s, many years before top European clubs started

seriously trying to "monetise" their brand abroad, Liverpool had a

In that same

Management Today interview, Ayre was clear as to why that feelgood aura matters

and the benefits it brings. "I think the thing about Liverpool is the

sense of inclusiveness, going right back to the socialist ideals of [Bill]

Shankly, if you like – the idea that we're all in this together, that we look

"There have

been lots of examples of that over the years, and I think over the years that's

resonated outwards. I've spent a lot of time in Asia, and it mirrors the values

in a lot of Asian countries – it's about family, about looking after and having

It's not clear

how racism, cheating and sinking your teeth into an opponent's arm fit into

that wholesome vision. Nor could the biting incident have come at a more

inappropriate time, set as it was against the backdrop of an intensely moving

tribute to the Hillsborough campaigner, Anne Williams, and the raw emotion of

Part of the

Fenway model, predicated on the introduction of Financial Fair Play making

football a potentially profitable business and applying its US knowhow to

leverage Liverpool's commercial value around the world, also involves growing

the club in the States. As well as Asia and the Far East, the US is

increasingly seen by the big Premier League clubs as a major engine of growth.

NBC last week announced its bold plan to broadcast every single Premier League

Suárez sinking

his teeth into an opponent does not undermine at a stroke all of Liverpool's

carefully nurtured history and iconography, nor does it undermine the push into

new markets around the world or the commercial model painstakingly constructed

by Ayre. On its own, it is simply one of those flashpoints that combine to fuel

But the big

worry for FSG and for Ayre is of a drip, drip effect. On top of the other

controversies involving the Uruguayan, a player who should be among the club's

biggest commercial assets has long since become a potential liability – off the

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