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Ryan Bailey

How Nike turned the World Cup purple and orange

Ryan Bailey
Dirty Tackle

Argentina '78 gave us ticker tape, Mexico '86 introduced the Mexican Wave, and USA '94 had the world trying to emulate Diana Ross' immeasurable soccer skill. The presiding theme of South Africa 2010 is, of course, shaping up to be the vuvuzela, but there is also a secondary leitmotif running through the tournament. Take a closer look at the players' footwear during any given game, and you will notice a sea of orange and purple. It seems that players from around the world, regardless of color or creed, are united by the same brightly colored Nikes. The American sportswear manufacturer has owned this World Cup like no other, as virtually every other player is wearing their Elite Series boots.

The most popular Elite boot is the eloquently named "Mercurial Vapor Superfly II," which was launched with much fanfare by Cristiano Ronaldo in London in February. In South Africa, you will see on them on the feet of Franck Ribery, Carlos Tevez, Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney and at least half of any given World Cup squad. Essentially, they're so hot right now, and you probably want a pair.

Nike told me that 40 percent of all players across the competition (around 294 total) are wearing them. Furthermore, they dominate the locker room of several nations: 16 out of the 23-man U.S. team are wearing the swooshy boots, and the same amount of players from the Brazil and Australia team are sporting them too. That's a heckuvalotta purple and orange, and millions of dollars of endorsement deals -- just think how many Range Rover Sports and badly decorated pre-fab McMansions Nike has funded with its phenomenal marketing budget.

So what's so good about these boots? Well, according to Nike they are "intricately engineered" and feature "carbon-enforced strength," but their two biggest USPs are their weight (or lack thereof), and "high contrast" color. It's obvious why lightweight boots are beneficial, but here's how they justify the garish hue:

An average person's vision is 99 percent peripheral. Less than 1 percent is considered foveal, or focused vision. To spark increased focus of peripheral vision Nike designers analyzed the color spectrum to identify two high-contrast colors, so that when a player is running with these boots the colors trigger a stimulus to rapidly tune peripheral vision. Mach Purple and Total Orange provided the perfect blend to create this effect and performance advantage.

Nike reasons that the brightness and color choice helps visual performance, allowing players to pick out their teammates for a "game-changing pass." Of course, when the majority of players from both sides are wearing the same outlandish footwear, the theory kind of goes out of the window. (A more cynical reasoning might suggest that they're brightly colored because that makes people notice them, thus increasing their desirability and the likelihood that someone will write a puffy blog post about them. But hey, who are we to argue with Nike's biomechanical analysis and football expertise?)

Undoubtedly, they're a sexy boot, but if you want to mimic your heroes and pick up a pair of Mercurial Vapor Superfly II's for yourself, you'll have to bear two things in mind. First, if you wear boots that are any other color than black, you instantly identify yourself as a Johnny Showboater, and you better have the skills to pay the bills. Second, a pair of these bad boys will set you back a cool $400. That's a pretty spicy meatball.

Image: Getty

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