When Belgium booted the United States from the FIFA World Cup on Tuesday, it ruled out another meeting on the field between the U.S. and Germany. But for the rest of the tournament, competition for apparel exposure will continue to pit the U.S. against Germany.
American sports apparel maker Nike and German companies Adidas and Puma, the three largest soccer apparel companies by market share, have poured sponsorship and marketing money into one of the world's largest sporting spectacles. Their financial dominance was evident on the field, where 27 of 32 competing teams wore uniforms, or so-called kits, made by one of the three companies.
The field was narrowed down to eight on Tuesday, and as the final stages of the tournament garner more interest, the winners on the field could help determine who prevails in the American-German marketing contest.
"Sponsorships can drive additional consumers if you're seeing your favorite player wearing a certain thing," said Nancy Smith, president of Analytic Partners.
For apparel companies, pumping money into sponsorships at the World Cup can be crucial.
Adidas is currently the world leader in soccer apparel sales. It bought into a top-level partnership with FIFA in Brazil and sponsored nine teams, expecting kit sales to reach 8 million in 2014 compared with 6.5 million in 2010.
Nike reported $876 million in marketing expenses in its fiscal 2014 fourth-quarter earnings last week, up 36 percent versus the year-ago period and driven by a marketing blitz ahead of the tournament. The Oregon-based company, which sponsored uniforms for 10 teams, believes its soccer "business has never been stronger," as year-over-year sales in the sport increased 21 percent, Nike spokesman Brian Strong told CNBC.
Puma reported a 3 percent increase in soccer apparel sales after the release of its eight World Cup uniforms, which account for a quarter of all competitors, Puma spokesman Ulf Santjer told CNBC.
But the sport's most viewed events can prove even more crucial for apparel sponsors, Analytic's Smith said. She mentioned an instance when her son saw players wearing a set of Adidas cleats at the UEFA Champions League final in May and "had to have them."
With that effect, the performance of teams and players wearing a sponsor's logo can hold implications for the brand's exposure. Entering the quarterfinals, the U.S. and German companies appear locked in a dead heat for game exposure.
With Nike's annual soccer sales likely to fall short of Adidas' projected $2.7 billion in sales, according to Reuters, the rest of the tournament could prove crucial.
Nike and Adidas sponsor three remaining teams each. Host country Brazil (and its favorite son Neymar), the Netherlands and France play on for Nike, while Adidas still boasts Germany, Argentina (and its star Lionel Messi) and Colombia.
The remaining teams, Costa Rica and Belgium, are sponsored by Italian company Lotto and Swiss company Burrda, respectively. All of Puma's competing teams have been knocked out.
According to current odds from SkyBet, a team representing Nike or adidas will likely take the Cup.
Source: Source: SkyBet
Brazil's place as the favorite bodes well for Nike. The host country's uniform is already Nike's best selling for a team, Strong said.
Germany, whose uniforms have boosted Adidas' World Cup apparel sales, and Argentina stand very good chances of winning the Cup with an Adidas logo on their uniforms. The Netherlands and France have both been popular picks to prevail at different points in the tournament.
With the number of consumer eyeballs likely to be glued to screens during the World Cup final, the companies should be hoping their teams hold on until the last match.
"When you get down to the finals, there's a bigger bang for your buck," Analytic's Smith said. "It can help if you sponsor a player who goes all the way through."
—By Jacob Pramuk, Special to CNBC.com