Last week, legendary soccer club AC Milan partnered with Rocket League to launch a brand-new jersey in both the physical and digital realms. Just as AC Milan fans around the globe can purchase the limited-edition shirt, Rocket League players can snag the signature look as decals for the game’s most popular cars.
AC Milan’s jerseys are among the most iconic in the sporting world. Vertical red and black stripes have graced the soccer club’s home shirt since its founding in 1899 and earned the club its nickname, the Rossoneri, translated from Italian as the “Red and Blacks.”
But with a sacrosanct look comes a tension between brand identity and innovation — and nobody is more aware of this balance than AC Milan Chief Revenue Officer Casper Stylsvig, who sat down with Forbes to discuss why Rocket League and a limited-edition kit release are the ultimate vehicles to build AC Milan’s brand around the globe.
“This is the ultimate proof in the convergence between sport, entertainment, gaming, fashion, and lifestyle – they all intersect,” Stylsvig said, “Being able to do that in such a popular game as Rocket League is something that we’re really, really proud of… We like to say that we want to think differently, we want to do things in a different way, and we want to be different…
Ultimately it’s about the capture and the share of attention of the fans. Not only our fans but football fans of all sorts… [Through Rocket League] we’re catering on a global scale, on a massive platform, to a younger audience. This is something that we really think we can pride ourselves on being a really innovative club.”
Stylsvig was joined by Rebel Ventures CEO Craig Howe, who added “When you look at younger generations, it really isn’t just about wins and losses and Metacritic scores. If you’re looking at games, it’s about how interesting those brands are, those games are — how they’re creative, how they’re innovative. What makes you want to discover something new?
You’re looking at one of the most successful football clubs in history, yet they’re always pushing themselves to grow as a brand and hit another level. And it just really fits incredibly well with Rocket League, who do everything they can to serve their passionate fan base, but they’re always looking to grow and reach new gamers. So I think in that sense it’s just kind of a really strong partnership.”
Phil Piliero, VP, Psyonix Co-Studio Head stated “AC Milan’s vision to reimagine their iconic red and black design in a digital manner on their latest jersey was a great fit to bring to Rocket League. At its core, our game is a reimagining of the game of football (or soccer), and having the opportunity to work side by side with AC Milan, PUMA and KOCHÉ to bring the AC Milan brand inside Rocket League was fantastic. Since launching we’ve seen tons of Rocket League fans show their support for AC Milan in-game, and are excited to reach AC Milan fans with an entirely new way to express their club loyalty on the Rocket League pitch.”
While the new jersey’s on-field action is limited to the team’s February 26 victory over Atalanta, the stylish kit has nearly sold out. Stylsvig told Forbes that 60% of the sales were to customers located outside of Italy, and 20% of sales were to the U.S., highlighting the global reach of AC Milan, which was ranked by Forbes in 2022 as the 14th most valuable soccer club in the world.
To Stylsvig, the actual sales figures of the jersey (and the Rocket League decal) are less important than proving that a 124-year-old club can still innovate: “It’s not only a trick for people to buy more products. Because we cannot trick the consumer today and that’s not the thinking behind it. But I think it’s to be seen as an innovative club. Our ultimate goal is to bring the club back where it used to be, so we sort of lost the way, probably over a decade and now the club is coming back, being in the quarter-finals in the Champions League, which is our natural habitat.
But it’s telling our story, our brand story, being interesting both to consumers, but also to other brands to what can you use AC Milan for. And then also making sure that we are catering to as many different people, as many different fans as possible. That is absolutely key for us.”
The AC Milan brand reflects the very city of Milan itself and the announcement of the jersey, designed in partnership with Paris-based fashion brand Koché, coincided with the renowned Milan Fashion Week. Previously, AC Milan partnered with Epic Games alongside 23 other clubs to offer their iconic jersey as a Fortnite skin, but it’s the blending of fashion and gaming that sets their Rocket League partnership launch apart from the club’s other digital endeavors.
“We are based in Milan, which is the fashion capital of the world,” Stylsvig said, “So when you have this very fine line between fashion, sport, and gaming today, so people tend to be fans of football but they’re also fans of fashion, and fans of gaming… A lot clubs are launching their fourth kit, but a lot of the launches are just disappearing in all the noise and that’s the reason you want to stand out. We want to be seen as trend setters here, that we are at the forefront here. We don’t want to copy other clubs. We like to do things our way and I think that’s much more important than a few more marketing dollars going that way.”
When asked where he hopes to see AC Milan in the digital space in ten years, Stylsvig shared that this launch “is the first step on something very interesting that we’re cooking at the moment. I can say that we’re sort of reaching out not only in the gaming space but broader, because we see ourselves as a brand, not necessarily just as a football club…
But definitely, we’ll be very innovative in how we communicate, how we go forward. And maybe also a little bit more brave. Because all football clubs, AC Milan included, are very guarded in the way we do it and I do think using other platforms we can be a little bit more brave.”
“When you have a city like Milan,” Howe added, “which is known around the world as kind of an epicenter of cool, obviously fashion is one thing that comes to mind. It’s just, this club has a really, really unique opportunity to create a global imprint in the culture… it’s not like this partnership could have worked with just any football club. I think there’s a lot of thought put into what AC Milan stands for as a football club historically and as a brand for the future.”
“Definitely,” Stylsvig agreed, “A brand of the future is absolutely key because as a business we need to keep growing. We have existed almost 125 years but we need to change with the world, which is absolutely key for us”
AC Milan wheels and the new fourth kit decal are available for purchase for both the Octane and Dominus until March 21. For more information, check out the official announcements from Rocket League and AC Milan.
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