BERLIN - US sportswear group Nike is banking on its sponsorship of more of the world's best-known football stars than Adidas in its battle to overtake the German firm as the sport's top-selling brand at its World Cup this summer.
Nike has signed six of the 10 most marketable footballers in the world, to just three for Adidas and one for smaller German brand Puma, according to a new ranking by sports marketing research group Repucom published on Wednesday.
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, sponsored by Nike, tops the Repucom ranking, with almost 84 per cent of people around the world saying they know the Real Madrid striker, helping to sell over one million shirts with his name on the back in 2013.
In second place is Lionel Messi of Argentina, front man for the Adidas campaign who scores 76 per cent global awareness according to Repucom - his marketability little dented by a mixed run of form for Barcelona this season.
The appeal of the extrovert Ronaldo, who took the crown as the world's best player from Messi in January, is helped by his use of Twitter, where he has 26 million followers to just two million for the more retiring Argentine.
Ronaldo probably helps sell shirts even when he isn't wearing one - he poses nude on the cover of the latest Spanish Vogue with his model girlfriend Irina Shayk - though the branding benefits are shared as Adidas sponsors Real Madrid.
"While it is primarily about performance on the pitch, a player's appeal is about a whole range of variables. With a footballer, you see everything, on the pitch and off the pitch, week in, week out," said Repucom founder Paul Smith.
"Athletes like Ronaldo have something unique that if you could bottle it and sell it, you would do nothing else."
Nike tries to do just that with a glitzy ad featuring Ronaldo - and Shayk - in which boys playing football in the local park end up scoring a penalty in a huge stadium against their heroes, including others from the Repucom top 10 such as England's Wayne Rooney and Brazil's Neymar.
Adidas has retaliated with a new ad launched last Saturday which shows Messi dreaming about his rivals such as Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany, Luis Suarez of Uruguay and Dani Alves of Brazil, none of whom feature in the Repucom ranking.