Richard Wright, GM of New Balance Football, knows a lot about the world’s most popular sport. The 33-year industry veteran has previously worked for Nike, Adidas, Umbro and Reebok, and helped start the Warrior soccer line for New Balance. For the past few months, the company has been transitioning that soccer business over to the New Balance brand. Wright gave FN the inside line on how it’s doing it.
1. What does New Balance offer the soccer world?
The great thing about New Balance is it’s rooted in innovation. We’ve used [New Balance’s] resources to research, how can I put it, product geekiness and technologies to improve our products. We’re also very lucky to be able to speak to the [brand’s pro] athletes one-on-one. Designers here have the phone numbers of all the superstars we have on the books. You often treat players as royalty, but they’re just regular human beings who want to speak to somebody about something they love.
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2. How have you been working with the athletes?
We’ve been testing and prototyping our products with the pros on the field of play since November. [Transitioning from Warrior to New Balance] meant we had to be fairly open with our testing program. But we wanted to show we were serious about the sport and getting things absolutely right. When we debut for the next soccer season, all of our pros will have gone down to the Nth degree on alterations for their personal comfort and requirements. If it’s good enough for [players like] Vincent Kompany and Aaron Ramsey, it should be good enough for you or me.
3. How do the New Balance cleats compare to the Warrior shoes?
They have been designed and developed with a different personality. Warrior was all about that 17-year-old boy who didn’t know his left leg from his right, but New Balance is a bit more mature as a brand. Having said that, the coolness of New Balance at the moment, particularly with students, has allowed us to be as cool as we want in designing the boots. They’re not boring, staid or conservative products by any stretch of the imagination.
4. What are your initial global target markets?
New Balance’s focus is on three markets: the U.K., Spain and the U.S. The biggest country in the world in commercial revenue is the U.S. — it’s four or fi ve times bigger than the U.K. and Germany, which are equal seconds. It’s mainly a youth sport at the moment, but that’s changing by the day.
5. What does it take to succeed in the soccer business?
The brand has to be true to itself — there’s little point in trying to re-engineer the brand and its personality. So we’ve stuck very close to New Balance’s origins. Also, you have to offer almost everything that could be available for football. My view is you need to do footwear, hardware and apparel to gain credibility. To a consumer, there’s nothing more credible than a pair of shin guards or goal-keeper gloves.