How regional Mexican brand Charly overtook Nike and Adidas in Liga MX
As late as five years ago, the swoosh reigned supreme in Mexico.
After losing the Mexican national team kit contract to Adidas following the 2006 World Cup, Nike poured itself into dominating Liga MX. When the Apertura 2013 season began, no company dressed more Mexican first-division teams than Nike.
To boot, they had aligned themselves as a brand associated with excellence in the Mexican game: They had outfitted the Apertura 2012 champions, Tijuana, and they went back-to-back in the Clausura 2013 when Club America toppled Cruz Azul in penalties in an epic league final.
As the competitive landscape to dress teams in Mexico has intensified, however, Nike has found itself steadily losing ground. For the Apertura 2018, they supply kits for just two teams: Club America and Pumas.
It would seem logical to think the push to dethrone the American manufacturer comes from one of its traditional worldwide competitors in Adidas, Puma or even Under Armour. In reality, it comes from a company based in a provincial city five hours from the Mexican capital.
Founded in 1949 as a shoe company in Leon, Charly was not part of the soccer landscape in Mexico for the first 64 years of its history. This season, it will outfit five of the league's teams -- the same amount Nike topped out at when it dominated Liga MX not too long ago.
Beyond the pitch, Charly has positioned itself as a ubiquitous brand for Mexicans, showing up on TV screens, as standalone shops in most urban areas, and even as the official kit supplier for one of the country's hottest television shows.
Another shoe company facilitated the shift from a local brand to a budding, national titan. A tariff for manufactured goods from China had made it unprofitable for Skechers to sell its wares in Mexico, eventually leading the company to pull its products from the country entirely. Looking for a partner with manufacturing capabilities to return to the market, they signed an exclusive deal with Charly in 2010.
"There are only two shoe companies that sell more than a billion dollars a year in the United States: Skechers and Nike. That's why this alliance is so important," Octavio Villalobos, Charly's commercial director, said shortly after the deal was announced. Villalobos estimated that the company would sell 600,000 pairs of shoes within the first year of the contract.
The deal gave Charly impressive financial clout and the ability to launch its soccer brand, Charly Futbol, in 2014. Atletico San Luis and Dorados de Sinaloa, two Ascenso MX clubs, were the first to be outfitted by the fledgling kit makers, while a few Liga MX stars such as Mauro Boselli and Rubens Sambueza signed on for sponsorship deals.
A year later, Charly moved into the first division, signing deals with Puebla and Veracruz. On television, the brand moved into promoting its brand by hiring sports personalities such as ESPN's Vanessa Huppenkothen to commercial deals. More than 150 specialty stores were opened in just over three years, bringing products to every corner of the country.
Perhaps the most surprising move came when Netflix's Club de Cuervos, the hit sitcom about two siblings struggling to run a fictional Liga MX squad, became part of the Charly's stable, with the company forming part of a storyline within the program. The show's popularity has helped the jersey become one of the most requested in the country.
Despite losing Puebla to Chinese manufacturer Li-Ning over the summer, Charly boasts five teams, including current Liga MX champions Santos Laguna on its roster going into the 2018-19 season, raising the brand's profile even more.
"It's a real honor and privilege to announce this alliance between Charly Futbol and Santos Laguna," said Santos president Alejandro Irarragorri, adding that he was glad to be in business with a Mexican brand.
Santos joins Veracruz, Pachuca, Tijuana and Necaxa this season as sponsored teams. Both Pachuca and Tijuana were recently with Nike (Xolos also enjoyed a recent sponsorship contract with Adidas), adding to Charly's gains on the U.S. giants.
"Our team is committed. We have young people with fresh ideas, and we look to create a design that fans and the team will like," Gerardo Garcia, Charly's marketing director, said in 2016. "We want to show a Mexican brand, led by Mexicans, [that] can make products at the highest level."
Along with Pirma, another brand based in Leon, and Keuka, Mexican brands now outfit eight of the league's 18 teams -- nearly half. While Nike, Adidas and Puma maintain relevance by dressing the division's most popular teams (Adidas recently extended its deal with Tigres, while Puma has dressed Chivas since 2016), it seems undeniable that Charly's explosive incursion has changed the landscape of Mexico's kit scene in a very short amount of time.
Eric Gomez is an editor for ESPN's One Nación. You can follow him on Twitter: @EricGomez86.