With his fourth straight FIFA Ballon d'Or wrapped up, Lionel Messi continues to affirm his status as the greatest player of our generation.
For some, Messi needs to win a World Cup to become the greatest of all time.
But not for me. In my opinion, he's already the greatest.
Lionel Messi is arguably the most popular athlete in the world, and his name is close to, if not already, as big as Michael Jordan as far as popularity during MJ's prime.
That's right. MJ status.
Messi already popular for everything he does on the pitch, so we won't talk about that.
This article is all about Messi as a brand.
Michael Jordan and his Air Jordan brand began in 1985, and the sports and marketing world has never been the same. Over 25 years of success for both Nike and MJ—even after retirement.
In this article, I will give you three suggestions that could help Lionel Messi build his brand to Michael Jordan status. Some of it is simple, while some of the suggestions will take time to build up to.
Remember: this is about building Messi's brand as big as Jordan's. We're not talking about who's more popular now or anything of that matter. To be fair to Michael Jordan, MJ is long retired, so it's obvious Leo Messi is more popular today since he's an active player, compared to the retired Jordan.
Lionel Messi is the most dominant athlete at his sport since Michael Jordan was of his sport of basketball.
At just 25-years-old, it's time for Messi to build his brand.
This one may not sound like an important issue, but it actually is quite important if Leo wants to grow his brand.
Learning the English language.
Just hear me out, please.
If Lionel Messi wants to grow his marketing opportunities, he needs to learn, at minimum, conversational English. There is a vast market that Leo is not tapping into by not speaking English. Yes, he's done interviews to English-speaking media outlets via a translator, but it's not the same. It's not as personal, and it's not as appealing to sales and to audiences watching.
Part of the reason Messi may need to learn English is to help him get more marketing exposure in English-speaking markets. Messi doesn't need to master the English language, but just know enough to get him by. Just look at David Beckham in the past. All he had to say was a few rehearsed words in Spanish, Italian or any other language and it was money in the bank.
Of course Messi is marketable right now, but he is a bit restricted because he only speaks Spanish. If he learns English, he becomes more marketable to a greater audience.
Denying that language does not have anything to do with marketability is a poor argument and ignorant. It's not the most important thing, but language is very important in marketing. Learning English, Arabic or any other language will help Messi get more commercials, more English/Arabic/etc. dominant sponsors.
And all of that leads to a bigger brand, and of course more money.
Michael Jordan did not learn a new language to better expand his marketing. He didn't need to. He already had English. Plus, he had Nike's never-ending support and marketing.
Adidas does not market Messi like Nike did (and still does) Michael Jordan. Let's hope Adidas changes this, or Messi may need to walk away. Adidas is not unfamiliar with losing a superstar athlete to another company.
See Kobe Bryant.
Not that English is the most important language an athlete needs to know, but it's arguably the most marketable language in the world.
So why not learn just a bit of it, Leo? It's not that hard.
Actually, I've heard learning English as a second language is very difficult.
Still, go for it, Leo! You've already learned a bit of Japanese (see video).
I'm a bit surprised Adidas has not been more persistent in growing Lionel Messi's brand.
I'm sure Nike would have stuffed more Messi commercials down our throats by now.
By the way: I'm not getting paid by Nike to say that.
In order for Leo Messi to expand his brand like Michael Jordan, Messi needs to talk to Adidas and demand not only a bigger marketing campaign, but maybe more importantly, to diversify the Messi merchandise.
More memorable commercials is a good start.
One of the main counterarguments one could make about Messi not being able to match Jordan's brand growth is the fact that soccer cleats are obviously not basketball shoes—which can be worn for almost any occasion.
You can't wear soccer cleats to the mall. Well, I guess you can. But you'll have many people stare at you—not to mention you may scratch up the floor.
While football cleats are a product sold to a specific audience only, Messi and Adidas should expand their line of Messi gear to appeal to a greater audience.
For example, why not come out with a Adidas Messi Cross-Training shoes? Or more Messi shirts? How about some Messi shorts or sweatbands. Casual shoes would be nice too. Maybe some Messi shin guards, and so on.
Due to FC Barcelona's contractual agreement with Nike, Lionel would not be able to wear his own line of gear during practice or even under his jersey (compression shirt). But Leo should market it to the mass public.
I'm sure his clothing line would become a massive hit.
Michael Jordan and his brand brought the sporting clothes market with all types of Jordan gear. And it worked.
Time for Messi and Adidas to try and do the same.
As we all know, the Jordan shoe brand is one of the most iconic shoe brands in the world. Nike and MJ have done one of the greatest marketing campaigns of all time—spanning over a quarter century.
As you know, Lionel Messi is an Adidas man. Historically, Adidas has not been as successful when it comes to growing their athletes' shoe line like Nike has been. However, Adidas' football style has been more popular among fans.
If Leo wants to build his brand, one thing he'll have to do is eventually build his Messi shoe brand even further.
Today, you can get a pair of Adidas adiZero boots. Leo needs to demand Adidas to market his shoes as "Messi's," and not simply just adiZeros. It's not that Messi needs to follow every single Jordan marketing detail, but having the general public know and refer his shoes as "Messi's" is much more effective from a marketing standpoint than calling his shoes "Adidas F50 adiZero's".
Too long a name, and easily forgettable.
Lionel needs to have the world want a pair of Messi's. Indoor shoes, and perhaps starting up a line of running/training shoes is a good idea.
But the big thing to build his brand is to eventually sign young, upcoming footballers to his shoe line.
When MJ retired, Nike and Michael knew it was time to build the Jordan brand with young stars. They began their post-retirement marketing phase with the video above.
Many have called it the greatest Jordan commercial of all time.
With young stars like Randy Moss, Derek Jeter, Eddie Jones, Ray Allen, and Roy Jones Jr. as the new face of "Team Jordan," Nike and Michael made the transition of having MJ himself be the marketing face of the Jordan brand to new superstars who would continue to keep the Jordan brand relevant in a post-MJ sports world.
Messi will eventually have to sign a few young footballers to his brand. Leo will not have a problem finding these future stars. He has La Masia to find, sign and market.
Michael Jordan has always been the athlete that has been used as a universal measuring device for appraising greatness. “He/she is the Michael Jordan of...” and so on. Nike even made t-shirts stating this.
One day, Lionel Messi will be the measuring device for greatness as well. Maybe not in the U.S. because many in the States lack football/“soccer” knowledge and awareness and the media in the country that I was born in tends to not celebrate athletes that are not American.
Remember when Time magazine put Messi on the cover of the world edition of its magazine but not on the U.S. edition of the magazine?
But for the rest of the world, Lionel will be alongside Michael’s name when measuring greatness. Messi, like Jordan, has changed his sport forever, transcends sports and has made a global impact with his play as well as his humble conduct.
For some, it may sound like blasphemy to say Messi and Jordan are close to being similar on global impact. I’m not saying Messi is a bigger name than Jordan right now, or that Messi will be a bigger name than Jordan one day. What I’m saying is that Leo’s name will be alongside (equal to) Michael’s when we think about the greatest athlete who has impacted the world and its culture.
It’s obvious that Jordan has a greater impact right now because his career is complete, and his marketing was and still is greater than Messi’s.
But just wait and see Messi’s impact among the global media and youth around the world once his career is over. I’m sure it will equal Jordan’s—with all due respect to Michael.
What else can Lionel Messi do to expand his brand like Michael Jordan's brand? Feel free to respectfully comment below.
Xoel, The Voice of FC Barcelona
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