In Olympics race, Adidas pursues edge in new sports
By Helen Reid
HERZOGENAURACH, Germany (Reuters) – As sportswear rivals jockey for position ahead of next year’s Paris Olympics, Adidas is aiming to stamp its brand on smaller events such as breaking, climbing, skateboarding and BMX.
After a high-profile fallout with Ye, the artist previously known as Kanye West, ended its highly profitable Yeezy shoe line, Adidas CEO Bjorn Gulden is seeking to reboot its image.
And the Olympics are a key arena for the global sportswear giants that spend millions sponsoring athletes, sports federations and national teams, as well as on event marketing.
A shift back to sports rather than celebrities is a key part of a game plan by Gulden, who took over as Adidas CEO at the start of 2023, to turn around its fortunes – a tactic which will face its biggest international test at Paris 2024.
“For whatever reason the old strategy here was to focus more deeply on fewer sports, and I’m the opposite, I want Adidas again to be in the smaller sports and to be visible,” he said.
“Focusing only on the four or five biggest sports is, first of all too easy, and it’s stupid to be honest,” he added in an interview at Adidas’ headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany.
A successful Olympics is a must if Adidas is to win back market share it has lost to rivals over the past four years and reward investors who are pinning their hopes on Gulden.
Shares in Adidas, the second-largest sportswear group by global market share, are up more than 50% so far this year, outpacing Nike and Puma, after two consecutive years of losses.
While the main focus for Adidas is still on the big Olympic sports like athletics, working on more niche disciplines stretches design teams and generates ideas for more mainstream products like running shoes, Gulden said.
Breaking, which has its origins in hip-hop, also has a streetwear and lifestyle appeal, Gulden said, while offering an opportunity to reach new audiences in key markets such as China, where the newest Olympic sport is popular.
Adidas in June signed China’s Liu Qingyi, known as “B-Girl 671”, the world number one female breaker, but competition is hot.
Nike is official sponsor of the U.S., Japanese and Korean breaking federations and told Reuters it has signed 20 athletes. Puma also recently signed Chinese athlete Qi Xiangyu.
As part of a drive to attract younger people to the Games, climbing, skateboarding and BMX freestyle, which made their Olympic debuts in Tokyo in 2021, will also feature in Paris.
While it is difficult to say how much the Olympics drives sportswear sales, the Games help brands build a reputation for the “performance” products used by elite level athletes.
Adidas signings this year include BMX athlete Kieran Reilly, the Brazilian Skateboarding Federation and the Polish Olympic Committee, although Gulden said its presence in Paris will not be as wide as he would have liked, as Olympics sponsorship contracts run for several years.
“The Olympics are important for these brands in terms of showing their technology in every sport,” said Boris Radondy, who invests in sports firms at French asset manager DNCA.
“When these brands forget that they are a sports brand, the customer goes away. You can’t be only lifestyle,” he added.
Puma is focusing mainly on athletics, where it has already invested significantly as official sponsor of the Jamaica Olympic Association, having signed Usain Bolt when he was 16.
“We still need to focus on gaining market share in these areas,” Richard Teyssier, Puma’s global brand and marketing director told Reuters.
Puma this year signed 35 new athletes across track and field disciplines from javelin and long jump to 10,000 metres.
“For them it’s very important to be exposed in track & field, and in the past they have picked the best athletes,” said Radondy, whose fund holds Puma shares.
At around three times Puma’s size in terms of sales, Adidas can afford to spend on more athletes and more sports at the Olympics. In turn, Nike can far outspend Adidas.
But Kerryn Foster, head of specialist sports at Adidas, said “we continue to invest more and more in the Olympics as a company, not just in the event but in the lead-up.”
For the shareholders who have backed Gulden, the hope will be that his new Adidas approach can deliver gold.
(Reporting by Helen Reid, Additional reporting by Katherine Masters in New York and Ananya Mariam Rajesh in Bengaluru; Editing by Matt Scuffham and Alexander Smith)
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