Nike Pacific Brand Director Nick Atkinson: “We have so much equity and history to elevate women’s sport”

Nick Atkinson

Before becoming Brand Director of Nike Pacific – an organisation he’s been part of since 2015 – Nick Atkinson knew very early on that he’d be working in football.

Growing up in Wales of the UK, he was brought up through the school, college and university system that paved the way for his passion to come to life.

From starting off with his first training session at Wick Dynamos in West Sussex, football has been a consistent part of his life.

In this interview with Soccerscene, Nick discusses his role of Brand Director in more detail, Nike’s involvement with the Matildas, working with Sam Kerr and giving back to the grassroots level.

As Brand Director, can you outline your role in helping promote football?

Nick Atkinson: I’ve been involved with Nike since 2015 and even before becoming part of the swoosh family, football has very much been something I am deeply passionate about.

I remember during the final round of my job interview for Nike, I was asked why I wanted to join the team. I didn’t give a great answer, but I had said that I wanted to work on a brand that propelled the game of football and had close ties to the World Cup. And I feel that my love for the game really shined in that moment.

Since taking up the role I’ve been fortunate to be part of so many firsts – seeing how football can uniquely unite and inspire people and nations.

With Nike’s level of global impact, I am aware of the responsibility and part I play in shaping how our athletes are seen, and leading this work on home soil has been a dream.

The Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand for example, was a major project that I led. It was Nike Pacific’s most significant investment in a sporting moment yet – from unmissable out-of-home, a world-first tiktokumentory, football accelerator legacy programs to the first female football-led retail door – the Dream Arena.

I’m immensely proud of what we, as a team, achieved to build a better game for all. It makes all the work we do behind-the-scenes so satisfying when we know it means that the next-gen athletes will have new-found heroes to look up to.

On a local level, after personally playing eight to nine seasons in Victoria’s state and metro leagues, I knew I wanted to get Nike involved as there was so much potential for impact at that level.

Seeing so much success in the sport both at the domestic and international level is a true highlight.

Nike proudly sponsor the Matildas; how do you reflect on FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023?

Nick Atkinson: I’ve worked with both our national teams (Matildas and Socceroos) for many years and have had so many amazing moments – I even remember a free-kick competition with Brett Emerton and Mark Bresciano in 2016 on ANZ Stadium!

If you look at the Socceroos performance in 2022, you can say it’s the ‘greatest assist’ before the 2023 Women’s World Cup because they had set that benchmark for performance and awareness across the country and reignited football.

This year’s tournament has undeniably been a generational moment for sport and culture, having the global tournament on home soil and the home team of the Matildas was the moment to accelerate sport into the future – we know sport creates change, and this was the largest accelerator of women’s sport and culture for the next five years.

The Matildas post tournament are now household names and have shown the world the power of women’s sport. From record-breaking crowds, jersey sales and viewership – the Matildas continue to inspire us all with their captivating performances and genuine love for each other, their fellow athletes and the game.

It felt like it’s been a while coming, but we saw the nation finally galvanise and get behind our national teams – and without a doubt, we’ll look back on the 2020’s as the greatest decade of women’s sport.

Living and breathing football in both my professional and personal life, I can say that we’ve got such a unique Australian football identity. We’re in arguably the most dynamic period that Australian football has ever seen and we’ve opened the sport up to the most diverse audience, which is so exciting and refreshing.

What did you make of user/social media engagement throughout the World Cup – was there anything significant you or your team saw in relation to aspects like shirt sales?

Nick Atkinson: We started working on our plans almost the day after the bid win got announced, so we were 100% ready going into the Women’s World Cup.

We have so much equity and history to elevate women’s sport at Nike, so this wasn’t new for us and has been a journey we’ve been on for a very long time.

When you look at a Matildas match, it is so different compared to the Socceroos. For example, lots of school trips and big groups of young fans, so that is really amazing.

One of the things that we anticipated was going to happen, was the emergence of new voices wrapped around this game. We knew this moment would be successful because it opened opportunities to grow and nurture these new voices in the game. That was one of the rewarding elements, to see different sections of the media and social platforms emerging to give us a new and youthful perspective on the sport.

Our partnership with TikTok saw the creation of 1000 Victories – one of the most successful pieces of media that we worked on through the Women’s World Cup.

This was co-created with a young generation of fans who emerged with a point of view on football and women’s sport. That enriched the game and really took it to new heights, making it bigger and more diverse and gives people a bunch of ways to be involved.

Sam Kerr is hugely popular in Australia and overseas – what was it like building her brand campaign?

Nick Atkinson: It’s been amazing, this is something I’ve personally worked on for a really long time, I’ve enjoyed and am so proud of.

It’s not only Sam but the whole group that we’ve had a relationship with for so long now and that has allowed us to get to know who they are as individuals as well as athletes.

To build a brand plan, you do need to have that full understanding of a person or team to work out how to best approach it.

I placed Sam in her first brand campaign for Nike in 2017 for the launch of the Mercurial Superfly 360 boots. That was at a time where she had just came off winning a Golden Boot in the NWSL and we knew at that point, we had a superstar on the rise.

We featured her in the launch campaign for the boots using billboards and the like, as well as an athlete experience at Rebel. We had an incredible turnout, not only from supporters but across the entire community.

At that time, it was clear that Sam had that star power to take her even further which proved to be the case. Fast Forward and she’s shared a few Mercs with Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe.

I’ve had the privilege to get to know Sam over the many years of collaboration and it has helped us build a strong, authentic platform and brand around her journey.

There’s nothing that we believe in more at Nike than listening to the voice of the athlete and doing work that resonates with them – such as their values and beliefs, and what they stand for. An example of this is something we’ve always told Sam, “We’ll get it right on the pitch first and then build from there.”.

The journey has been amazing and to be part of that is truly special. Our goal is to support Sam and build her brand while she’s delivering ground-breaking performances on the pitch and creating an unbreakable connection with fans.

More broadly, at Nike we believe that it’s not a one-person team with the Matildas by any stretch.

We have an incredible roster of athletes across the Matildas such as Elle Carpenter, Steph Catley, Kyah Simon, Alanna Kennedy, Mackenzie Arnold, Hayley Raso and more, and we’re focused on supporting and elevating the whole roster.

Our brand investment in the Women’s World Cup was the single biggest investment we’ve ever made in this country to elevate the team. We were prepared, we started early and I believe played a critical part in connecting the fans and the team.

Matildas brand stories:

All For Tomorrow

Sam Kerr – Flip The Game

Show the World Your Victory

You are also supporting Fitzroy Lions Soccer Club – what is it like switching back to the grassroots level and giving back?

Nick Atkinson: Football would not happen without volunteers at the grassroots level – it’s an area of the game that we really believe in and want to have a positive impact.

I shared my story coming through the UK, starting out in grassroots football, and being one of those kids that had to hustle for rides from other people’s parents, or ride my bike to games with my brother, and wear my boots until they fell apart, I know what a huge enabler it can be for kids.  Getting involved in Fitzroy Lions has been a real personal love of mine.

We’ve been partnered with Fitzroy Lions Soccer Club since 2018 – they are an incredible organisation where many of the kids come from refugee families and football plays a critical role in uniting that community. It’s where you really feel the power of the world game.

Our relationship started simply, going down to training sessions to meet the team and see what they’re about – they are a rare team in Australia that offers a route into structured league football for kids whose parents can’t quite afford it normally, in a sport that can be quite expensive to play. Through the time spent with them, I really got to know the kids and their families.

It was so enriching and an awesome experience where the club simply provides the opportunity for everyone and eliminates those barriers that people face when looking to play.

So many of us at Nike live and work around those communities so it’s a great opportunity to directly support people related to what we do. We’re proud to be part of something like this and seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces when they’re playing on the field is a real highlight in my career.

Excitingly, like many other grassroots clubs, they have seen a 200% increase in girls participating this season which is so encouraging.

In addition, we’re in the fifth year of naming rights for the Nike FC Cup and recently announced the Nike FC Accelerator Program. This is a four-year commitment with Football Victoria to drive gender equity in the sport by increasing the number of female coaches and giving better access to football at The Home of Matildas.

Overall, we want to provide equal opportunities and this is the legacy that Nike wants to leave in the long run to drive the sport forward.

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Liam Watson is the Co-Founder & Publisher of Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy, industry matters and technology.

PSG confirms it is seeking to leave Parc des Princes

Paris Saint-Germain’s President Nasser Al Khelaifi has confirmed that the club will try to leave the Parc des Princes stadium after Paris’ city council confirmed that the stadium was not for sale.

This comes after PSG also ended their interest in purchasing France’s iconic Stade de France because it was too far east from where the club is based. The club set to explore other options in its search to expand its home.

Initially, the club had set out plans to buy the Parc des Princes outright and invest a lot of money into upgrades. These upgrades included increasing the stadium’s capacity from around 48,000 to 60,000 and improving the corporate area.

The club consistently sells out the stadium for its games, exceeding $150 million in stadium revenue for the 2022-23 financial year. However, PSG has stressed that the stadium is too small and is limiting the club’s commercial opportunities.

PSG Chief Revenue Officer Marc Armstrong explained the frustration that the club is experiencing with the current Parc de Princes situation.

“48,000 is not enough, we have the highest revenue per seat in Europe as of last season, and we’ll be there or thereabouts again this season, but we can do a lot more with a bigger stadium and we should be playing in front of 60,000 or 70,000 fans every week,” Armstrong said at a media session.

“We’ve been forced to look at other options and that’s how we see it, we don’t want to move. We want to stay at the Parc des Princes, but we have to look and have been looking seriously at other options for the last year.”

PSG have played at the Parc des Princes since their first appearance in the French top flight in 1974 and agreed a 30-year extension to their lease in 2013.

The club say they have arranged an emergency meeting for Thursday afternoon with their stadium team to begin this process.

This is a proactive approach by PSG who understand that the Parc de Princes is limiting the club from making more money with a new and larger stadium is more suitable.

Al Nassr and Adidas sign multi-year kit deal

Al-Nassr have confirmed iconic sports brand Adidas as their new kit sponsor as they sign a three-year deal with the German company starting from 2024/25 season.

As part of the deal, Adidas will design kits for all Al-Nassr teams including the senior men’s and women’s sides as well as the youth teams. Al-Nassr currently have a short-term deal with Nike which was set to be a temporary partnership before finding a better suitor.

Adidas are committed to investing a lot of resources in order to fast-track the growth of football in Saudi Arabia. Last year, Adidas formed a partnership with the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF), and they also took over from Nike as the official ball supplier of the SPL with that partnership beginning this month in the middle of the season.

Adidas regional manager Bilal Fares expressed excitement at this great opportunity for the brand:

“We are thrilled to announce the partnership between Adidas and Al Nassr FC, which represents two entities committed to shaping the future of football in Saudi Arabia. As Al Nassr Football Club embarks on a new chapter for the men’s and women’s teams, Adidas is honoured to provide them with cutting-edge sportswear technology,” Fares explained in an Adidas press release.

“With a comprehensive apparel agreement covering all teams and staff, we are not only outfitting a football club; we are empowering a movement. The influx of international players and the shared commitment to excellence positions this collaboration as a catalyst for elevating the sport’s status in the Kingdom and beyond.”

Al-Nassr CEO Guido Fienga highlighted the importance of growing the club to a global scale with Adidas.

“As we join forces with Adidas in this exciting partnership, the scale and resonance of Al Nassr, both adorned with the iconic Adidas three stripes, magnify the global impact we can achieve,” Fienga said in a club statement.

“This collaboration is a testament to our shared ambitions and our dedication to making Al Nassr a football powerhouse, not only in the Kingdom but on the international stage.”

The partnership highlights Adidas’ commitment to advancing football excellence in Saudi Arabia and they will now provide the big SPL club with cutting-edge sportswear technology. Al-Nassr share the same values as Adidas and by signing this deal, it represents the club’s ambition to consolidate its global positioning.

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