Italy striker Balotelli to wear Puma boots in sponsorship deal

FRANKFURT Mon Dec 23, 2013 5:43am EST

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FRANKFURT Dec 23 (Reuters) - Puma has signed up Italian striker Mario Balotelli to wear its soccer boots, part of the German sportswear company's efforts to strengthen a footwear business that has lost out to rivals Nike and Adidas in recent years.

Puma, which is 84 percent-owned by French luxury group Kering, wants to sign up big-name players ahead of next year's football World Cup in Brazil.

The Italy striker joins a line-up of Puma sponsored stars including Argentinian footballer Sergio Aguero, Spaniard Cesc Fabregas, German Marco Reus, and Colombian Radamel Falcao.

Puma, which ranks a distant third in the sports apparel industry behind Nike and Adidas, did not disclose the cost of its partnership with Balotelli.

In November, Chief Executive Bjoern Gulden said the company needed to focus less on fashion, as it had done over the last two decades, and more on performance sportswear.

One of Gulden's priorities is to fix footwear sales, which fell 7.5 percent in the first nine months of the year and which he described as Puma's "Achilles' heel".

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