By Victoria Bryan
FRANKFURT Dec 6 When soccer teams battle for
the World Cup in Brazil next year, another fight for global
supremacy will be played out on the pitches - between Adidas and
In the next round of their tussle to be the world's biggest
sports brand there is everything to play for.
Nike currently owns 14.6 percent of the global sporting
goods market to Adidas' 11.4 percent, and is whittling away at
the German brand's No. 1 position in Europe. Adidas held 13.2
percent of the western European sporting goods market in 2012 to
Nike's 12.4 percent, according to Euromonitor data.
"It's not easy to evaluate (next year's) collections. Adidas
is definitely putting a lot of effort into winning lost ground,
but a company like Nike won't rest on its laurels," said Hans
Allmendinger, head of marketing for German sporting goods
Adidas has for more than 40 years decorated
soccer kit and shoes with its distinctive parallel lines logo.
It has strong partnerships setting it up well for the coming
challenge: a close relationship with German club Bayern Munich,
of which it owns 9 percent, and with FIFA, soccer's world
governing body, for whom it designs official World Cup kit.
Adidas has forecast record 2014 soccer sales of over 2
billion euros and aims to boost group sales to 17 billion euros
($23 billion) in 2015.
U.S. Nike, meanwhile, only entered the soccer market
in 1994. But already it has several major partnerships with
clubs, including English champions Manchester United.
The owner of the distinctive 'swoosh' or tick logo, does not
give forecasts for individual sport categories, but it is
predicting group sales of up to $30 billion by 2015 - suggesting
it thinks it can put in a sufficiently strong performance during
the World Cup to stretch its global lead over the German company
- and maybe beat it at home too.
In Nike's first fiscal quarter of 2013, ended Aug.31, it
posted an 8 percent jump in sales in Europe. Over the same
period, Adidas' European sales fell 7 percent.
Adidas is pulling out all the stops to make its presence
felt in Brazil, where Nike sponsors the national team.
Brazil have won the World Cup a record five times and the
country is a byword for stylish soccer, meaning there is a huge
buzz around the tournament - and Nike's designs.
Adidas is aiming to make its presence felt with players like
Lionel Messi and Mesut Ozil, who play for Adidas-sponsored
national teams Argentina and Germany - and the launch of the
official match ball, the "Brazuca" - on sale for $160 but free
to Brazilians born on its launch day.
Given the scale of the battle however it will also be using
what is politely known as "ambush marketing." Soccer watchers
cite as an early example in this year's World Cup campaigns the
launch of a new soccer top for the Palmeiras club in the yellow,
green and blue worn by the Brazil national team.
"That will be ruffling a few feathers," said Berenberg Bank
analyst John Guy. "They've certainly got a few tactical moves up
their sleeves to consolidate their position against Nike and
that's good to see."
Klaus Jost, president of the world's largest sportswear
retailer Intersport, said Nike's roster of top soccer players
like Frenchman Franck Ribery and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo
was one of the reasons for Nike's increasing sales in Europe.
"It's much more about creating the right image," he told
Reuters. "Stars like Ribery, Ronaldo and (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic
have such an attraction that many kids want to copy them."
Big name endorsements are also responsible for Nike's
Retailers say the U.S. brand has gained market share this
year thanks to well designed, comfortable products such as the
top-selling Nike Free sneaker - and getting its
performance-enhancing shoes on the feet of the biggest sports
Nike's impressive roster of sponsorship deals includes
current names like soccer star Ronaldo, tennis player Roger
Federer, golfers Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy and legendary
track and field athletes like Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson.
"Nike has done a really good job of presenting themselves as
the true brand for performance," Tammy Smulder, managing
director at marketing consultancy SCB Partners, told Reuters.
"Nike says, 'We will be associated with the top athletes,
whatever the sport'. You can't dispute that," she added.
Adidas chief executive Herbert Hainer said this week the
group had made some mistakes, but added: "We believe we can grow
the business by launching a lot of new innovative products. Our
pipeline of new products is full."
One of the ways Adidas is hoping to grow sales is by using
the cushioning technology in its Boost running shoes for other
categories such as basketball. That could enable it to increase
sales of Boost shoes to 15 million pairs in 2015, after having
only introduced the line earlier this year.
It has signed big names in sports other than soccer in a bid
to gain market share from Nike. But its partnership with U.S.
basketball star Derrick Rose has run into difficulties as a
result of Rose suffering several injuries that have kept him off
the court for months.
HOW TO MEASURE COOL?
The biggest challenge in the battle of the brands is to win
the crown of cool - something far more difficult than simply
designing a new product.
At the moment, say market watchers and consultants, Nike
seems to be stealing a march on Adidas thanks to early adoption
of new technologies which it is then harnessing to a bigger
social media presence.
"They have a good hunch for the next wave that will define a
generation," Lea Simpson, strategy director at digital strategy
agency TH_NK, told Reuters.
"In the 1980s, it was fitness, now it's tech and
Nike has almost 2.5 million Twitter followers to just over
570,000 for Adidas. It also has higher Facebook engagement
rates, showing its fans interact better than Adidas fans with
Its Nike+ Fuelband and other apps track training and can
then post results on social media sites - a far more powerful
demonstration of brand involvement than a Facebook 'like',
Adidas CEO Hainer said this week that the company would
shift "much more money" into digital and social media.
Garth Farrar, global head of digital at Repucom, noted
Adidas had already been producing more Vine clips, Facebook
posts and tweets over the last months.
He said Adidas' social media campaign looked geared to "give
the brand more cultural relevance beyond Europe .. and help
protect the brand from any ambush stunts from Nike around the