Warrior Sports began in the early 1990s as a small niche producer of lacrosse equipment and uniforms. Its owner, David Morrow, was a former lacrosse champion and a co-founder of Major League Lacrosse. The Michigan-based firm soon expanded into hockey, where it’s had increasing success—NHL stars Alex Kovalev, Alex Burrows and Chris Pronger now use Warrior sticks and gloves. But Warrior has even bigger ambitions. Its next target? Big league soccer. Last month, Warrior announced it had signed a six-year contract to provide uniforms for the English Premier League soccer club Liverpool F.C.
It may seem like a big and especially risky leap to pursue such a high-profile deal in a sport it has no previous experience in. But Warrior does have at least one key advantage. In 2004, it was acquired by the Boston-based running shoe giant New Balance. New Balance also sponsors the Boston Red Sox baseball team, whose parent company, Fenway Sports Group, happens to own the Liverpool soccer club.
“There was a relationship there already and I think it’s sort of an extension of that,” says Matt Powell, an analyst with SportsOneSource, a sports market research firm. Powell says it wouldn’t be surprising to see New Balance introduce soccer boots under the Warrior name in the market as well. Warrior already produces lacrosse cleats.
The announcement sparked a harsh reaction from Liverpool’s previous supplier, Adidas, whose CEO, Herbert Heiner, said the club had been asking too much for a sponsorship and delivered too little—Liverpool hasn’t won the English league since 1991. Warrior will reportedly pay $39 million a year to Liverpool, more than any other club in England demands for a uniform sponsorship deal. Warrior didn’t return calls to comment on the figure or its ambitions to break into soccer, the world’s most popular sport. But Warrior’s general manager Richard Wright had this to say in a statement: “We’re here to shake up the world of football, and our partnership with one of the most successful club teams of all time is just the start.”