Borussia Dortmund kicked off their Champions League campaign on Wednesday night, but their 2-1 victory over Turkish champions Besiktas was overshadowed by fans’ anger over Dortmund’s kit choice.
Dortmund have entered the pitch in Istanbul with a controversial new third strip, produced by kit sponsor Puma as part of a range of similar models at other European clubs. Much to the chagrin of Dortmund supporters, however, their club’s famous logo was barely visible, printed yellow on yellow.
“We regret that the fans are angry and we apologize,” Puma president Bjorn Gulden, himself a former professional footballer, told DPA on Friday. “We have taken feedback to heart and will take it into account when designing future kits. “
But those words seem unlikely to appease Dortmund supporters, who have issued scathing criticism of their own club, whose professional football division is five percent owned by Puma.
“This kit is banned for two reasons,” wrote the BVB fanzine online. Schwatzgelb. “First, he has no visible club badge. Second, the fans feel cheated because the club’s public communication has been terrible.”
Controversial Puma kits
Fans’ suspicions were first aroused in May when leaked images showed prototype kits designed by German sportswear giants for several European football clubs, including Manchester City, AC Milan, Olympique de Marseille and Shakhtar Donetsk, as well as Bundesliga teams Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Rather than traditional club badges, the kits featured the names of clubs or cities spelled out on the chest, with the club’s sponsors underneath and the Puma logo placed in the center above.
Fans voiced their objection at the time during a digital fan council meeting with the club’s marketing director, Carsten Cramer, as club ultrases hung banners outside the club’s offices: “Cramer: BVB badge is not a toy for your bonus” and “Those who do not honor the badge are not worthy of Borussia.”
Dortmund acknowledged the critics in a tweet, insisting the leaked images did not look like what the kits would actually look like and asking for patience.
It was the last communication on the subject until Cramer told the Kicker meets DAZN podcast last week that “the criticism was justified … so much so that we not only took it into account, but also thought about how we might fix the problem.”
The correction, which appeared on Wednesday in Istanbul, consisted of replacing the word “Dortmund” with the abbreviation “BVB 09” and adding the club badge – although barely visible, printed yellow on yellow.
Lucrative sponsorship contract
From fanzine research Schwatzgelb, the kit was a condition of a contract extension that Puma signed with Borussia Dortmund in November 2019, extending cooperation until 2028 and guaranteeing the Bundesliga around € 30m per year, or around a quarter of billion over the term of the contract. , according to reports.
German economic newspaper Handelsblatt said at the time that Puma’s market share in the football industry was less than 10% and that he was determined to catch up with rivals Adidas and Nike. The positioning of the Puma logo in first position on the shirts of several major European football clubs to the detriment of the clubs’ own logos would seem to correspond to this strategy of increasing visibility.
“Club officials all know what value the badge has to fans and that they were going beyond a mark, sacrificing it for a Puma marketing ploy,” wrote Schwatzgelb, also highlighting the fact that, exceptionally, the club did not advertise or market the new kit when preparing for the Besiktas match. “Even though the BVB logo is not untouchable, fans must be wondering if there are any taboos left.”
Marketing director Cramer himself acknowledged the difficulty of balancing fan concerns with the financial demands of modern football:
“I’m definitely not Borussia Dortmund’s most popular employee because it’s my job to get the most out of the club commercially,” he admitted. “Marketing for a football club is a real tightrope.”