Nike have been a mainstay in Serie A since their debut way back in 1997, providing shirts for top teams such as Roma, Juventus, Atalanta, and, of course, Inter Milan. But if rumours are to be believed, could we be set to see the Swoosh drop out of the Italian top flight?

Nike emerged on the footballing scene in the mid 90s, and they instantly grew into the game, sponsoring teams across the world, including in Italy. Napoli were the first team to bring the Swoosh to Serie A in the 1997/98 season, and from that moment on the American giants have been an ever present, producing shirts for Inter, Juventus (2003 – 2013; includes the infamous year in Serie B), AS Roma (2014 – 2021), Atalanta (2014 – 2017) and Hellas Verona (2013 – 2018; again with a year in B). The height of Nike’s time in Italy came in the 2014/15 season, when all of those teams listed wore shirts produced by the Swoosh. But is that time coming to an end?

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Nike has been undergoing a radical change in approach to the way its involved in football in recent months. Firstly, there has been the noticeable departure of a huge host of big name players from the Swoosh setup, including the likes of Neymar, Raheem Sterling, Sergio Ramos and Robert Lewandowski, to name but a few. But while that could potentially be chalked up to a refreshing of the ranks and a greater concentration on a smaller number of future stars of the game, what should set the alarm bells ringing is what’s happening in Serie A.

Long gone are Juventus, who have been enjoying a fruitful period with adidas, and that’s been followed by the news that Roma have cut their deal with Nike short, instead signing with New Balance. And now there are rumours suggesting that things may not be going smoothly with Inter – Nike’s lynchpin in the Italian top flight for over 20 years now.

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Nike and Inter Milan’s partnership began in the 1998/99 season, and the pair haven’t seemingly looked back since. But there’s big change afoot for the Nerazzurri, and following news of their upcoming name and logo change came the hammer blow that Pirelli will no longer be the front of shirt sponsor after over a quarter of a century. Add to that the fact that the San Siro is set to be demolished and replaced by a brand new stadium on the site in due course, and the big changes are actually pretty huge. And it might not be stopping there, with reports emerging in Italy that negotiations between club and brand aren’t going smoothly. Imagine an Inter shirt without Nike and Pirelli – it would barely be recognisable, with the two brands having enjoyed such a long period with the club that they’ve virtually become part of its identity.

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Inter’s current deal with Nike is set to expire in June 2024. Nike currently pays Inter around €10m a season, much less than other big teams, including Juventus, who are getting €51m Euro from adidas a season. This fact will not have gone unnoticed by the Inter hierarchy, and as has been seen with Roma, these contracts are not set in stone. Interestingly, adidas – the other global sporting superpower – only has Juventus on its books from Serie A, and there’s a suggestion that the German brand would be willing to swoop in, should the possibility arise. 

Back in October 2020, Inter announced that they had taken back their retail and licensing rights from Nike, with the new operations model between the two organisations allowing Inter to take full control of their product sales network. “What we can officially announce today is that from Nike we bought back the rights of retail and licensing,” said Alessandro Antonello, Inter’s chief executive in a statement regarding the move. “Through the repurchase of these rights we will be able to generate new important revenues, which will go directly to the club. Then new frontiers are opened to face new markets.” The seeds of discontent have been present for a time it would seem.

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What all of this means is that if Inter and Nike do part ways, the Swoosh would not appear on a team shirt in Serie A for the first time in almost 25 years. Sure, they’d still provide the official match ball, but that is a huge departure from being a force in one of the major football leagues in the world. And speaking of the world, this doesn’t seem to be restricted to just Europe either.

Boca Juniors re-signed with adidas back in January 2020, bringing an end to a 23-year long partnership with Nike and leaving the brand with San Lorenzo as its only team in the Argentinian Primera Division. It was a move that also saw Boca sharing adidas with bitter rivals River Plate. Prior to this, the divide between Nike and adidas lent yet another level to the intense rivalry, in a similar fashion to Real Madrid and Barcelona, with one team on either side of the brand war. It could be that lack of representation in Argentina and now Italy is a mere coincidence, but it’s certainly enough to raise eyebrows. So why is this happening?

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Firstly there is the significant impact of the last 12 months to consider. The financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic will have had an effect on even he biggest companies in the world. But then there is also a marked shift in the power dynamic between brands in the sporting arena. Suddenly, the gap between the top two of adidas and Nike and the rest has been drastically reduced, to the point where you would now call it a top three, with PUMA finally returning to a position that is befitting of their great past. Then you have the next tier, who have also upped their game, spear-headed by New Balance’s recent resurgence. It’s now a far more competitive market, and where Nike were often reserved for only the top performing teams of the world, now it’s not the case so much, particularly in Italy. 

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Serie A with no Nike? Would be strange, but it could well happen.