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Why sponsors are breaking off Mesut Özil contracts?

Behind adidas' choice not to renew his contract is the public image of the player

Why sponsors are breaking off Mesut Özil contracts? Behind adidas' choice not to renew his contract is the public image of the player

"Fingerprints do not indicate who we really are, DNA does not make us understand why we are different from each other, the timbre of the voice says nothing about our identity, because what makes us truly unique are our choices" said the narrating voice in the 2011 commercial that Mercedes-Benz created to launch the 2011 version of the GLK. Paradoxical to start talking about Mesut Özil in this way, partly because his choices - clear, thoughtful and determined - brought him to a certain extent, partly because talking about the Turkish-German talent by citing the Stuttgart car manufacturer is almost paradoxical. Keep the icon open, because it will come in handy.

Before tackling the latest event in a rather turbulent public life, we need to make a flashback to understand the nature of Mesut Özil's choices. A jump back in time to understand the story behind a footballer / character who has been on the big stage for more than 10 years now. Özil is a third generation Turkish-German, i.e. he is part of the largest foreign community in Germany (which in 2019 had 1.55 million Turks), and Gelsenkiärken was born and raised where his father Mustafa ran an inn. The decision to represent the German national team was natural, even if "painful" according to what was stated by the player himself.

In addition to letting his feet talk - and his left has long been considered one of the best in Europe - he also moves his fingers a lot, so much so that he deserves the nickname "Social Media King". To date, his total fan base (adding Instagram, Facebook and Twitter) has about 77 million followers, which makes him a real marketing weapon. Brands like Nike are well aware of this, and in February 2008 they decided to put the former Werder Bremen talent under contract. In the usual finished battle between the two companies that in a certain sense cannibalize the football market, adidas in 2013 managed to snatch Ozil from the swoosh, by signing a contract of around 25 million euros that linked him to the three stripes right up to 2020. Özil's numbers continue to grow - even if it's not always brilliant on the pitch - and when he becomes, in 2016, the first German player to have 10 million followers on Facebook, Mercedes-Benz knocks on the door of his newborn brother Mutlu's Özil Marketing and offers a rich contract to the midfielder who has since moved from Madrid to London. In short, Mesut Özil becomes in a few years a real money machine.

The performance on the pitch is not always constant and the situation at Arsenal is not always calm. Even his Twitter page is not quiet, with almost 25 million users waiting for yet another twist of his career. The first comes in summer 2014, when he marries Amine Gülşe (Miss Turkey 2014) and chooses Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as his wedding witness. His friendship with the President of Turkey was never a secret and, indeed, when for the 2018 elections the controversial Turkish politician chose to transform Turkey's players into influencers, Özil's face played a privileged role.

Political issues have always been part of the social life of the Gunners midfielder. The most important moments of his social activism on political issues can be summarized in two points: the choice to leave the German national team due to racism in 2018 and a poisonous as "expensive" tweet against China in 2019. "I am German when we win and an immigrant when we lose "were the strong words he used to tell and denounce all the times he received racist insults or was attacked, for example, by two armed people when he was aboard a Mercedes GLK. The decision not to play for Germany has strengthened his ties to Turkey in some way and just a year later, with the world still shaken by the Morey-gate, Mesut increases the dose. In December 2019, via Twitter he publicly denounced the persecution of the ethnic Uyghur turkophone, a Muslim minority in the Xianjing region that since 2009 has been kept segregated in concentration camps by the Communist government of the Han. Özil challenges China in all respects by publishing photos of the blue flag of the East Turkestan Independentist Movement, officially prohibited by the Chinese authorities. The consequences were ominously similar to those of the Morey case: CCTV, the Chinese broadcaster that broadcasts the Premier League thanks to a 700 million agreement, threatens the English league to no longer broadcast the matches, putting the huge fan base at risk Asian; NetEase, the company that deals with the world wide distribution of PES 2020, immediately announces the cancellation of Özil from the Chinese edition.

Currently, the public image of Mesut Özil comes out of this series of behaviors and the first consequences are the sponsorship contracts with the brands. In the specific case, Mercedes-Benz and adidas. The first decided in 2018 to start investigating the relationship between the Arsenal midfielder and President Erdoğan, given his latest speeches and his latest repressive actions. In the same year, after Özil's declarations on the German national team and on other releases confirming the closeness to the Turkish leader, Mercedes decided to terminate relations with Mesut and not to continue the collaboration. After the statements on the German national team, comes the tough position of Jörg Howe, head of the Mercedes communication office: "Mercedes-Benz has been a partner of the DFB and the German team for over 40 years, both in positive and negative periods. We will examine the accusations of Mesut Özil to the media, the DFB and the sponsors in peace, we will evaluate and then decide accordingly". From then on, Auf Wiedersehen Mercedes.

A similar strategy was that he replied two years later by adidas, which has revealed that he will not renew the sponsorship contract with the Turkish player also because of his public image, excessively linked to values that contrast those of the German brand. According to Bild, the off-field behavior of Arsenal's # 10 would have been decisive in the choice not to continue the relationship. The spending review already announced by the three stripes (in light of 40% less sales in the second quarter) has certainly affected the decision to no longer have Mesut Özil in the player portfolio, but the choice of Turkish-German not to be forgotten wanting to give up 12.5% of his salary - the highest of the £ 18.2 million Gunners per season - during the covid-19 stop.

Beyond the historical moment, beyond the (reduced) budgets redistributed in a different way by the sports companies, being a voice out of the chorus often represents a negative aspect for brands. Özil has supported a controversial political leader, who has an international reputation that is more negative than positive, but at the same time he used his formidable social numbers to denounce something unthinkable in 2020. The events that left Mercedes first and adidas later to Özil they make it clear that a mainstream profile remains more attractive to sponsors and not a voice capable of making their voices heard. No other player has publicly exposed himself on concentration camps in China - first denied and then defined re-education camps for people belonging to ethnic and religious minorities - and this, in a world that often reason in the opposite direction, is viewed negatively. The rhetoric that destroys those who use a privileged position like that of footballers is still one of those negative points that nobody wants to touch. "the only thing that will be remembered is our silence" Özil often remembers. So, if it is true that "what makes us truly unique are our choices", it is understandable to choose to be a voice out of the choir.