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    Prada Shifts Focus From Celebrities to Athletes, Partners With Chinese Women’s Soccer Team

    The Italian fashion label has had to cut ties with several celebrity brand ambassadors over major scandals in recent years. It’s now partnering with more athletes instead.
    Jul 11, 2023#sports#fashion

    Italian fashion label Prada is teaming up with China’s women’s national soccer team in another partnership with Chinese female athletes.  

    The brand is further building its portfolio of sports partnerships at a time when another Prada celebrity brand ambassador is embroiled in a high-profile sex scandal.  

    Prada announced the partnership on Monday, in which it will provide traveling and formal event outfits for the squad and staff to “give the team a modern and stylish appearance off the field.” The deal was announced as the women’s team set off for the FIFA Women’s World Cup beginning July 20 in Australia and New Zealand. 

    Nicknamed the “Steel Roses,” the national women’s soccer team has seen its commercial value increase after winning the Asian Cup last year. The team now counts 19 sponsors and partners, from insurance company Ping An to car brand Roewe.

    The national women’s soccer team is the latest Chinese female sports outfit to partner with Prada. Basketball player Yang Shuyu signed on as a brand ambassador in May, after appearing in a Prada campaign on Douyin last year with shot-putter Gong Lijiao, marathon runner Li Zhixuan, and water polo player Xiong Dunhan.

    “In general, athletes can attract a larger audience than certain celebrities, and the traits of perseverance and dedication that these athletes exhibit can be effective in enhancing the brand image,” Pablo Mauron, partner & managing director for China at Digital Luxury Group, an online marketing agency for luxury companies, told Sixth Tone.

    Mauron added that foreign brands collaborating with Chinese athletes can better resonate with domestic consumers amid Chinese consumers’ growing patriotism.

    The trend has further accelerated on the back of several high-profile scandals involving Chinese celebrity ambassadors for foreign luxury brands. Prada has cut ties with disgraced actors Zheng Shuang and Li Yifeng in recent years, while brand ambassador Cai Xukun is currently fighting off allegations that he forced a woman to have an abortion after a one-night stand.  

    Other luxury brands have also suffered similar scandals in recent years, including Louis Vuitton cutting ties with pop idol Kris Wu over his rape conviction and Bulgari cutting ties with actor Deng Lun for tax evasion.

    “In the face of potential celebrity backlash, relying on an athlete with a more transparent reputation may be perceived as a risk-averse approach,” Mauron explained.

    Although luxury brands partnering with athletes is still more common in the West, there have been several high-profile cases in China in recent years. Olympic gold medalist freeskiing sensation Eileen Gu has become the face of Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, and Victoria’s Secret, while surfer Guo Shujuan has partnered with Chanel, Calvin Klein, and Tommy Hilfiger. 

    Though most athletes do not have as high a commercial value as celebrities, at least in the short term, they may be a better fit for luxury brands’ marketing in the long term, Mauron explained. 

    Online, people have hailed Prada’s new partnership since it was announced, with the hashtag “Prada found the right person this time” going viral with more than 110 million views on microblogging platform Weibo as of Tuesday afternoon.

    Netizens have mocked the brand for the string of scandals involving its brand ambassadors in recent years, calling it the “Prada endorsement curse.” 

    “It’s a good thing they didn’t choose the men’s team, otherwise the curse would continue!” a Weibo influencer posted, referring to the scandal-ridden national men’s soccer team.  

    Editor: Vincent Chow. 

    (Header image: Members of the Chinese women's national soccer team in Prada outfits. From @Prada普拉达 on Weibo)