Four approaches to the design of soccer shirts

A unique philosophy of a club
A marketing campaign by a sport brand
Commercial interest versus shirt design
The power of the supporters and kit sponsor

The design of soccer shirts develop the way as football does in general. The influence of the sponsors is growing and getting more visible. It is common that the names of stadiums changed into names oftheir sponsors. The sport kit brands introduce their new outfit across different sport directions and cultural regions. The following cases show the different interests in contemporary shirts beside the mainstream.

Club Athletic (Bilbao) - the bask principle

Bilbao shirt Bilbao shirt Bilbao shirt

Athletic Bilbao is more than a football club, it is a feeling. And as such it's ways of operating often escape rational analysis. We see ourselves as unique in world football and this defines our identity. We do not say that we are either better or worse than others, merely different. We only wish for the sons of our soil to represent our club, and in so wishing we stand out as a sporting entity, not a business.

(Athletic president Jose Maria Arrate’s speech, delivered on the club’s 100th year anniversary)

The new shirt of Athletic Bilbao for the international games 2004 / 05 is designed by an artist. (left) The opposite of a template a unique shirt made by a bask for the bask soccer player. Athletic Bilbao has a strong idea of its identity. The team has a self defined regulation that only basks are playing in the club - no foreigners, no other players from spain. The club and the supporters see the club as a symbol for their wish for a free and independent bask country. And following this line they have a clear mentality on how dealing with the club's identity including their shirt sponsor. Beside the shirt (center), which was presented in 1998 for the 100th anniversary Athletic traditionally play in their red + white striped jersey (right).
On behalf of their self-conception the club Athletic and the FC Barcelona don't have a sponsor on their shirt.

Update: After 110 years Bilbao had broken up with their strong tradition of a 'blank shirt'. In july 2008 they announced the oil company Petronor as their first shirt sponsor. And with the season 09/10 they got Umbro as official shirt manufacturer. The last years the club has been going against the norm by manufacturing their own kits. Since 2006, also the shirts of Barcelona present a name - but not a sponsor. The Club encourages the work of UNICEF with this free and valuable promotion.

Cameroon - the indomitable lion

Cameroon Unikit Cameroon sleeveless Cameroon with sleeve

The National Football Team of Cameroon appeared at the 2004 African Cup of Nations in a newly designed one-piece playing kit (the Cameroon UniQT). The top of the kit is skin-tight. The kit design features ‘lion claw tears” (left) on each side along the oblique muscles, referring to Cameroon’s nickname of the ‘Indomitable Lions.’ The ‘Indomitable Lions’, lions which you can't discipline, have come to symbolize confidence, athleticism and sheer power. The marketing campaign is completed by a trailer in a comic / manga style. According to the Fifa this behavior of Cameroon is to be seen as a violation of Law 4 of the Fifa “Laws of the Game”. The Fifa regulation says: A sports kit has a pair of shorts + a shirt. As a consequence of Cameroon’s failure to comply with the equipment requirements on the field the team was fined with a six point deduction for the 2006 World Cup qualification campaign. In addition the Cameroon Football Association has also been fined CHF 200.000. Later the deduction of 6 points was withdrawn.

The development of the kit began in 2001 along with its predecessor, the groundbreaking sleeveless shirt (center) worn by the Cameroon team in the 2002 African Cup of Nations. The sleeveless shirt was less spectacular but still already a case for the Fifa. According to the regulations of the Fifa the national teams have to wear a Fifa badge on the sleeves. For that reason Puma added a black sleeve. (right) On the dark skin of the Cameroon players it was almost invisible and still looked sleeveless while the badge could be worn at the same time. The Cameroon case is exemplary for Pumas ambition to become a sport-lifestyle brand. They chose an exotic team to introduce their fashion style.

The Cameroon sports kit became a special case for Puma. They created a unique new style for the shirt and played with the regulations of the Fifa. The Cameroon outfit and the appearance of the Indomitable lions is used as a teaser for their fashionable style in the field of sport kit brands.

Atletico de Madrid - spiderman

Atletico de Madrid spiderman Atletico de Madrid spiderman Atletico de Madrid

Atletico Madrid has submitted a new jersey (left) to European soccer's ruling body for approval, after its old one (center) was banned because of an oversized sponsor ad. Atletico used a jersey with a spider and its net covering the entire front of the jersey to promote the 'Spiderman 2' during its season opening-game. The club didn't receive a fine for using the jersey, because they immediately accepted to cooperate and change it to a new version in proper size.

Atletico has carried movie titles on its jerseys since last season. While changing the ads during the year, their traditionally striped shirt (right) had become a kind of billboard.

This actually stands in opposition to the idea of their sport kit sponsor Nike. The american brand introduced a global design for their shirts. This kind of template with high recognizability reflects the individual character of the teams only by its filled-in colours. At the Euro 2004 four teams played in this jersey. Beside Croatia, who added their characteristic square pattern, the teams of Portugal, Russia and Netherland played in identical shirts.

Ajax Amsterdam - stripes

Ajax Amsterdam Ajax Amsterdam Ajax Amsterdam

In the year 2000 the Ajax stock trade was temporarily shut down. In an official press statement, Ajax's kit sponsor Adidas announced that the three stripes on the sleeves (center) that had only been introduced earlier would be removed again from the new jersey. This was due to ongoing criticism by Ajax fans who didn't like the stripes and wanted the traditional white sleeves (left) back.

The stripes were later re-introduced on the shirts for the international games of the club.

For the season 2004 / 2005 Ajax presented a set of three new shirts. Beside the traditional red / white version came a black and a yellow jersey. The three shirts very clearly show the different influences on the design and colour by Adidas, the club’s main sponsor ABN-Amro Bank and their historical club identity. The new yellow striped shirt (right), is based on the colour of the main sponsor. Compared to other striped jerseys the Ajax version is reduced to three stripes like the kit sponsors trademark.