Christian Stadil: The Hummel owner on how Afghan soccer fits his Company Karma

19 March 2015 | Posted in Quick-Fire Questions | By James Emmett | Contact the author

Christian Stadil: The Hummel owner on how Afghan soccer fits his Company Karma

Photo: Christian Stadil by Daniel Karlsson

Earlier this month, German-founded, Danish-owned sportswear brand Hummel extended its sponsorship and supply deal with the Afghanastian Football Federation (AFF) for a further four years.

The deal includes bespoke supply, marketing and operations plays across the Afghan men’s and women’s national teams, and the Afghan Premier League. For Hummel owner Christian Stadil, it’s a continuation of what he perceives as one of the flagship association in Hummel’s partnership portfolio. Here, he explains why.

Why did you renew the deal with the AFF?

The collaboration with the Afghan Football Federation is in my opinion one of the most important partnerships we have in Hummel. It’s an embodiment of our ‘company karma’ philosophy and values. This is what we mean when we say we have this Utopic vision and promise. Of course there are other countries in the world which are hard hit – Syria, Libya, Somali – but Afghanistan is still one of the hardest places in the world. Since the 1800s there has been such a focus in this country on war, terror, death and destruction. This beautiful country and these beautiful people really deserve a brighter future. I think the beautiful game can be, not the solution, but part of the solution. On the pitch, the different tribes and factions, the people of Afghanistan can meet and focus on something more positive. Abroad, we’re starting to see news coming out of Afghanistan that isn’t about war. We actually have a team here that is not only a karma team, a storytelling team, but it’s a team that knows how to play football too. They won the 2013 South Asian Football Federation Championship.

The AFF won the 2013 Fifa Fair Play award. Presumably that is one of your highlights of the previous four year partnership. Are there any others?

A really big highlight of the AFF partnership was when we took part in arranging and financing the match between the Afghanistan women’s national team playing against the NATO soldiers from around eight different countries – including Italy and Germany and the US. I was there and that day still really gives me goosebumps and it was one of the pivotal, most important moments in my life. I felt like Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now standing there in the middle of a warzone arranging it and making it happen. These great, great girls got a chance to practise their passion. They were killed if they did that under the Taliban from 1996 to 2001.

"I felt like Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now standing there in the middle of a warzone arranging it and making it happen"

Then of course the win at the South Asian Football Federation Championship – it’s the first tournament that Afghanistan has ever won. And from a press point of view, from a company stakeholder point of view, there has been measurable ROI from this collaboration, on top of the philosophical alignment. John Kerry visited the country and was playing football with the girls, wearing Hummel, and that was seen around world. That was obviously on the biggest media channels around.

What will you do for the AFF over the course of this contract?

It’s a four-year deal running from now. It bridges through and over the qualification for the 2018 Fifa World Cup. That campaign will be important for us and we will support Afghanistan as well as we can, through equipment and from a monetary point of view if necessary. A personal ambition of mine is to get the team to play friendlies in Europe. Can we get them to Germany or Denmark to play a friendly? We’d like to explore these possibilities. Of course we also sponsor all the teams in the Afghan Premier League; we sponsor the biggest children’s day in Afghanistan – thousands of kids playing football in Hummel. So from a more conceptual point of view, could we align all the things we do in Afghanistan more closely?

The female angle is still a very important part of this too. Still today, it can be difficult for girls to live out their passion for sport. So that mission and vision is also a part of this; we would like to empower the fantastic strong women of Afghanistan through this collaboration.

Why announce the news now?

We wanted to announce the contract on Sunday 8th March in connection with the Women’s Football Festival in Kabul. We’ve got around 300 young girls there – from schools and orphanages – and the reason for it is to highlight and appreciate women’s participation in sports on International Women’s Day. It’s a platform to encourage other women to take part in sports and to deliver a general message of peace to the world through sport.

Is this deal in any way about making money for Hummel? Do you have distribution networks in Afghanistan?

That is not the focus of the collaboration, for sure not. When we talk about the quadruple win, the company aspect –building a strong culture in Hummel – becomes increasingly important. For myself as an owner, as I get older, and not to sound like a granddad, but for sure we want to earn money, but we also want to make a difference. That becomes more important for me and for the whole group. This partnership for us is about building a strong culture, and then from a measurement perspective generating positive PR.

"For myself as an owner, as I get older, and not to sound like a granddad, but for sure we want to earn money, but we also want to make a difference"

We are one of the only sports brands of our size that has only one owner. Most other sports brands are stock listed. I say this with all respect, but I don’t know who owns Nike and Adidas. I think they have Russian, Chinese, German, English – stockholders from all over the world. We have one owner so this means that’s there’s many things we cannot do. We can’t afford to sponsor the biggest football teams, or if we can it means I have to drain the equity across all the group’s concerns, not only Hummel. This is not the way we want to go. Even if we had the money we wouldn’t want to go that way. What can we do that our competition cannot do? One of the things is that we can allow ourselves to make these sponsorships that are controversial, that can backfire, that can even be dangerous.

I own 70 per cent of a Danish stocklisted company so I know how it is to be stocklisted. You cannot allow yourselves to do this type of thing if you’re stocklisted. You have to play it straighter. The other thing we can do is work a lot more closely with our collaborators and partners. We’re very flexible in how we work with our retailers, delivering day to day, taking more risks, which the other guys don’t want to do. If you ask one of the big guys to make a special jersey for a team like Afghanistan they would never do that.

So Afghanistan is about positive PR hopefully; it’s a marketing platform and tool; it’s a way to differentiate ourselves – it’s part of our uniqueness as a smaller brand. This is what’s in it for us. Hopefully we can generate some jersey sales online; hopefully we can create such a cool jersey that it becomes cult and people around the world want to show their support for the Afghan people, signal that they’re against war and they are into the beautiful game as a positive change vehicle.

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