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Pitch perfect: getting a grip on cultural differences in football boot search

Our work  across markets offers us insight on, often unrecongised, cultural differences that have interesting implications for our clients. We recently conducted research on English football shoe terms and equivalents in German ( fußballschuhe or fussballschuhe) and Spanish (botas de futbol or zapatillas de futbol). The research was limited to non-branded search, so the figures describe a space that’s relevant to  everyone in sports retail.

Specifically, the space in question is shoe type – or rather, the different types of football shoe worn on different pitches. A UK-based retailer may well see relatively little search for anything other than the studded type commonly used on grass-pitches: but our research has found that they would be missing significant opportunities if they applied this thinking abroad.

Note that for the purposes of this study, a portion of ‘pitch type’ searches have been inferred by the use of related terms. For example, it stands to reason that someone searching for “fußballschuhe eisenstollen” (“football shoes with iron studs”) intends to use these boots on normal turf. For similar reasons, the often relatively small portion of searches for “normal turf” shouldn’t be taken to indicate that shoppers are not playing on grass pitches: rather, it is likely that grass pitches have the status of a default and a substantial percentage of “none specified” search is actually for this type of pitch.

pitch perfect_1

The graph above shows how consumers in three different markets are using pitch-type as a keyword specifier in their (non-branded) search for Football boots. Whereas in the UK, pitch-type is specified in barely 2% of searches, it is a feature of around 23% of German searches and nearly 40% of searches in Spain.

pitch perfect_2

The market-specific pie charts exclude the large amount of terms that do not specify or strongly imply a distinct play environment. This allows a side-by-side comparrison of search for specific pitch types, emphasising the stark contrasts between each market.

Most apparent is the substantial magenta portion denoting search for “Indoor” football boots – accounting for over 22,000 searches in the average month, the largest portion of specific-pitch search in any market. (Consider, also, that search for “artificial turf” in Spain isn’t actually that much smaller than it is in the UK, yet the graphs look distinctly different). Indeed, search for Indoor football boots is around a third of all Spanish non-Brand football boot search.

So why is this? Weather is likely to be a factor, with the high summer temperatures in many parts of Spain forcing players indoors. Yet “the weather” could surely just as easily be levelled at play in the UK – the provision of appropriate facilities is perhaps a critical factor too, as well as the degree to which indoor football is established as a sport in its own right.

Jose, a Spanish member of our Local In-Market Experts (LIME) team, offers the following perspective on just why indoor play is so popular in Spain: “A lot of play is indoor because you do not need too much space and fewer participants: it is more convenient, quicker to organize and play.” These preferences manifest themselves in Futsal, a variant of five-a-side football invented in Spanish-speaking South America that is especially popular in the already Football-mad Spain: Spain has finished third or higher at every FIFA Futsal World Cup since 1992.

When sports retail involves so many different product lines, it’s all too easy to miss fine detail

The implications for businesses in this space are straightforward: greater emphasis must be placed on promoting and advertising indoor football boots in Spanish digital campaigns. A similar appetite for indoor boots may exist in other markets too (Germany’s search trends are significant too), but beyond this, it’s worth considering whether every product type has similar surprises: when sports retail involves so many different product lines, it’s all too easy to miss fine detail like this. These oversights could be costing your business.