As one of the world's most popular sports, there's always a lot of eyeballs on – erm – football (or soccer, if you'd prefer). For that reason, sponsorship is big business and almost every football team on the planet has a sponsor of some kind on its shirt (there's a growing trend now for multiple sponsors, in fact).
Taking this into account, it's unsurprising to learn that video game companies have long seen the benefit of having their brand name emblazoned across the jersey of a leading football team – and Nintendo is no exception. Join us as we take a look at how the Kyoto veteran (and many of its rivals and partners) have harnessed the popularity of football to spread the word about their products.
As we all know, Nintendo's main HQ is based in the Japanese city of Kyoto. The local team – Kyoto Sanga – joined the Japanese football league (J. League, for short) in 1995, and currently sits in the second tier. For a while now, the team has been sponsored by Nintendo, but you'd be forgiven for not realising this fact; for starters, it sponsors the rear of the shirt rather than front, and its name is spelt using Kanji.
In the past, Nintendo looked outside of its local league for sponsorship opportunities and settled on the Italian team Fiorentina. In 1997, the Serie A team's shirt showcased that classic red-and-white Nintendo logo, and in the 1998-1999 season benefitted from the mercurial skills of Gabriel Batistuta, one of the most famous Argentinian players of all time, as well as the equally talented Portuguese playmaker Rui Costa. This shirt has to rank as one of the most iconic the sport has seen, even if you're not a fan of Nintendo itself.
Update: Thanks to Nintendo Life reader Haywired for pointing out that in the early '90s, Spanish club Sevilla wore a shirt with Super Nintendo on the front. This was back when the temperamental genius Maradona played for the team.
Back in the '90s, Nintendo's biggest rival was Sega, and it too decided to enter the world of football in order to spread its name. Perhaps the greatest kit to carry the Sega name belonged to JEF United, a member of the J. League when it launched in 1993 (its name is taken from the corporate titles of the two companies which gave it financial backing: JR East and Furukawa Electric).
Although, like Kyoto Sanga, JEF United currently sits in the second division of the J. League, it has a long and proud history. When Sega sponsored the club in its early years, it created one of the most memorable J. League kits; the bright yellow contrasting perfectly with the sky-blue Sega logo (complete with Sonic in football attire, of course). This association was sadly short-lived, but it's worth noting that in later years, Sammy – the company with which Sega would merge in 2004 – sponsored the back of JEF United's shirt.
More recently (but still almost 20 years ago now), Sega chose to sponsor the English Premier League team Arsenal around the same time that it launched its Dreamcast console in Europe. While the home shirt was pretty humdrum, the yellow (and later gold) away kit benefitted from that famous Sega logo (albeit in black rather than the traditional blue). Sega would also sponsor other European clubs – such as Sampdoria, Deportivo de La Coruna and AS Saint-Étienne – at the same time, but this mammoth marketing push couldn't prevent the Dreamcast from flopping in the region.
Like several of its rivals, famous publisher Konami would also choose to back a J. League team – in this case, Tokyo Verdy (formerly known as Verdy Kawasaki). Konami is one of the local game firms in the area, and its logo could be seen on the team's shirt in the 2002, 2003 and 2004 seasons. Like Kyoto Sanga and JEF United, the once proud Verdy is now stuck in the second division of the J. League, which could perhaps hint that having a video game sponsor is bad luck for your local team.
Capcom's local team, Cerezo Osaka, also had video game sponsorship for a short time. The company behind Street Fighter and Resident Evil sponsored the club in the early years of its life, even taking the main sponsor placement on the front of the shirt for a time (it was eventually relegated to the rear of the jersey, supplanted by the brilliantly-named Nippon Ham). The loud pink of the club's colours really seems to compliment Capcom's bold yellow-and-blue logo, if you ask us.
Given that Sony's PlayStation brand is one of the key sponsors of the UEFA Champion's League, you'd expect the company to have sponsored loads of teams, but that's not the case. Sure, Sony itself has appeared on the shirts of Italian side Juventus and the Costa Rica-based Liga Deportiva Alajuelense, but the PlayStation name has only appeared on one jersey. That belonged to French division 2 side AJ Auxerre, and as well as getting the famous name, the shirt also had a PSP logo on it. Swish!
Microsoft's Xbox brand was, until very recently, the main shirt sponsor of the Major League Soccer team Seattle Sounders, the company's local side. Given the close match between the brand colours of the two outfits, it was a good match. However, the main sponsor is now Zulily, an American e-commerce company.
One of the most famous names in the world of video games has also dabbled in the realm of football shirt sponsorship. Around the time that the Atari name was being kicked around like a piece of rubbish nobody wanted to pick up and pop in the trash, it ended up being owned by French publisher Infogrames – so the fact that, during the 2001-2002 season, Atari's name could be seen on the shirt of Olympique Lyonnais isn't all that surprising.
Outside of these notable entries, we've seen companies like Commodore (Chelsea), Ocean (FC Martigues), Eidos (Manchester City) and even EA's FIFA brand (Swindon Town, of all teams) make their way onto football shirts. However, this golden era of video game sponsorship appears to be at an end.
Given the strong correlation between gamers and football fans, one would expect this kind of thing to happen more than it does – especially in Japan, where very few teams are actually sponsored by games companies now – but at least we got these lovely kits, right?
And yes, that JEF United away shirt on the left does indeed belong to us – it was kindly supplied by Japan Football Shirts, an online store (check it out on Twitter and Facebook) which we would highly advise against following, as you will quickly end up blowing your life savings (and your children's savings) on some of the most attractive football shirts ever created by mankind. Consider yourself warned.