FIFA regulations currently establish that players may wear undergarments, shirts, sports bras, thermal pants or cooling garments under the uniform (“underwear”), as long as the garment does not display sponsor advertising, among others.
Two decades ago this was a big topic in Mexico as part of a public relations campaign. At that time, the Liga MX game regulations established that “The clothing used under the uniform must be plain and not contain images of any kind.” and that “Players are prohibited from wearing bands, caps, wristbands, pants and/or thermal shirts with commercial advertising”. It currently prohibits “the use of nicknames created by advertising campaigns, commercial advertisements, brands, racist and/or xenophobic labels”.
In 1996, a global soft drink company launched a campaign that signed nearly 1,000 professional soccer players from around the world to join the team called “Generation Next.” This campaign arrived in Mexico in 1998 with a public relations plan that sought to position the company as a promoter of values related to sports.
The strategy included the sponsorship of a fast soccer tournament and promotional activities in shopping malls, schools, and other places, with the presence of some of the Mexican players involved.
A fundamental part of the campaign was that the signed footballers, several of them national teams, when scoring a goal, lifted up the team’s shirt to show a shirt that showed the company’s brand and the identification of the campaign; In exchange, the soft drink rewarded $700 to the players who celebrated by showing the advertising on their torso.
The activity began in the Mexican league matches that were played in March of that year with the confidence that, surprisingly, photos and videos would be published showing the action and the company’s brand. The effect was as expected, several photos were published throughout the country and during the following days controversy arose, including criticism of the participating players.
The sudden action caused confusion among the directors of the different first division clubs, who reacted because their commercial contracts with other sponsors were affected. Some club presidents and managers said they would penalize players who did not respect the guidelines.
A week after the start of the campaign, the then president of the First Division Branch informed the media that: “The use of advertising other than that existing on the uniform of each Mexican soccer team is prohibited. It is a matter in which each of the teams has taken action on the matter, regardless of the fact that the player’s contract clearly establishes that he cannot do this”. From that moment on, the players were prevented from “spontaneously” expressing their taste for the aforementioned brand.