Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez left sponsor Adidas AG with a World Cup dilemma by appearing to bite an Italian opponent during yesterday’s game.
Television images appeared to show Suarez sinking his teeth into defender Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder in a 1-0 victory in Natal, Brazil, that qualified Uruguay for the round of 16 of the soccer tournament and eliminated four-time champion Italy.
Suarez, 27, who was banned for 10 matches last year in the English Premier League for biting an opponent, ignored reporters’ questions after the match.
“I can foresee Adidas saying that’s it,” Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports business strategy at the U.K.’s Coventry University, said in a telephone interview. “Suarez is testing their limits.”
Tournament organizer FIFA said in an e-mailed release this morning that it had begun disciplinary proceedings against Suarez.
“FIFA can confirm that disciplinary proceedings have been opened against the player Luis Suarez of Uruguay,” the organization said. “The FIFA Disciplinary Committee is responsible for sanctioning serious infringements which have escaped the match officials’ attention.”
Suarez, the Premier League player of the season for Liverpool, is among an Adidas portfolio of soccer players including Argentina’s Lionel Messi who promoted the brand in an advertisement released ahead of the World Cup.
A year after giving Suarez a warning about his conduct, Chadwick said Adidas will again come under pressure to act as a “moral arbiter” and end its association with him.
“Adidas is aware of the issue involving Luis Suarez,” the $22 billion sporting goods maker based in Herzogenaurach, Germany, said in a statement. “We await FIFA’s full investigation into this matter and will respond accordingly.”
Adidas said yesterday it will have soccer-related sales of 2 billion euros ($2.7 billion) this year as the World Cup boosts demand for its balls and sports gear. It is trying to fend off U.S. rival Nike Inc. in the $17 billion global soccer-products market.
After Suarez got his Premier League ban last year for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic during a game, Adidas said it would be “reminding” the Liverpool player of the standards the brand expects from endorsers. When he played for Amsterdam-based team Ajax, Suarez received a seven-game suspension in 2010 for biting an opponent.
Chiellini raced over to the referee to show his shoulder during the game yesterday after Suarez appeared to bite him. Suarez wasn’t ejected or penalized. Chiellini said in a television interview that Suarez’s teeth left a mark on his shoulder.
The latest incident won’t hurt Adidas revenue, except possibly in Italy, according to Paul Swinand, an analyst at Morningstar Inc. in Chicago who tracks sports apparel brands. If Adidas drops Suarez, the striker could move to Nike, Swinand added in a telephone interview.
“Maybe he doesn’t fit with their style, but if Adidas releases him he’s going to go to the opposition,” Swinand said. “If Nike handles the bad-boy image well, it could be good for sales.”