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Volume 7 No. 149
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Hangin' With ... New Balance Football General Manager Richard Wright

RICHARD WRIGHT is the general manager of New Balance Football. Wright, a 33-year industry veteran, has developed football footwear for Nike, adidas and Umbro before joining Warrior to develop its Warrior Football line. In August, Warrior's parent company, New Balance, announced the decision to rebrand Warrior Football as New Balance Football. Wright spoke to SBD Global about kit deals, the challenges of rebranding and his goals for New Balance Football.

On getting his start in the shoe industry ...
Richard Wright: I started back in 1982 when I worked in an English shoe factory. My first job after college was making the very first men’s Nike football boots. That was where it all started. I did a bit of retail as a footwear buyer for a large chain of shops in the U.K., called Olympus, which was the Footlocker of the U.K. at the time. I then got the chance to move to Germany with adidas and work on the football department there, specifically as the product manager on football boots. I then went back to the U.K. with adidas U.K., so I got my ticket home, then over to Umbro, which is in the same part of the country in the northwest of England in Manchester. I was head of footwear equipment there for a year on a global basis. From there I got a call from adidas again to set up Reebok football -- Reebok’s second attempt at football. That lasted for about three years, before they decided to pull the plug on that one -- adidas did. That gave me the opportunity to find a plug with Warrior. I met David Morrow, who’s CEO of Warrior, obviously owned by New Balance. And that’s where it all began.

On the decision to rebrand Warrior Football ...
Wright: Interestingly, a lot of people assume it was because Warrior wasn’t working, but that’s really not the case. Warrior was working very well. We’re very proud that even after two years in the marketplace, we were playing with the big boys -- the adidas, Nikes, Pumas and Umbros of this world -- in the category. We’ve been mentioned in the same sentences as those brands. We regarded that as a massive success, to be honest. From a brand that was essentially being launched globally, not just in the football category, but also in general as a brand. So, we were very pleased with that. We thought we’d done a hell of a good job at that point. However, with New Balance doing so well globally and with New Balance pledging the decision to pull a chair up to the big table and to compete with the big two in particular, with aspirations of becoming a global athletic No. 3 brand, part of the way to do that is to be in soccer. You have no choice. It’s the world’s biggest sport. You can’t have an aspiration about being a No. 3 brand without being in the category.

On the challenges of rebranding ...
Wright: The biggest challenge is the competitive nature of the category. Although it’s the biggest category, it’s also probably the most competitive. You’ve got two huge sports brands, adidas and Nike, with probably 80 percent market share, in footwear in particular. So that’s the first major hurdle. We believe that the pie is big enough for a challenger brand to make an impact and that New Balance is strong enough as a brand at the moment to compete with even the big two. We firmly do believe that.

On the Liverpool kit deal ...
Wright: It will help New Balance enormously in giving us the soccer credibility that we absolutely crave. We need to prove that we are a soccer brand to the world. This is one step in doing that, either through clubs endorsing your brand or players endorsing your brand. On the reverse side, Liverpool get a brand which is highly innovative, endurance and performance-oriented, has huge and full global distribution which they can take advantage of and which will promote the Liverpool brand in every corner of the earth. So it’s a win-win for both of us.

On his goals for New Balance Football ...
Wright: Our goal and vision is to be globally, the No. 3 football brand. It’s not going to happen overnight, for sure. In mid to long term, that would be our main goal. Initially, obviously, we’re going to launch and position the brand as a technical, innovative, performance-oriented brand, which is available for every level of player. We’ll be uncompromising in our service levels to professional athletes and to local parks players. Once positioned, we have the intention to really challenge the top.

Hangin' With runs each Friday in SBD Global.