Nike, Adidas lead suppliers' battle for gold

(Reuters) - U.S. market leader Nike and German rival Adidas are locked in their own Olympic battle to boost athletes' performance and squeeze maximum value out of next month's Games in London.

The Games provide a showcase for new fashions and advances in technology which sportswear suppliers hope will drive sales at a time of economic turmoil in many of their markets.

Unlike soccer's World Cup, Olympic venues carry no perimeter advertising, making the suppliers of kit and shoes the most visible brands when the eyes of the world are on the Games.

"This puts the likes of Nike, Adidas and Puma firmly in the spotlight in the most emotionally-charged moments," said Danny Townsend, president EMEA and South Asia at brand analysis company Repucom.

"Endorsement deals with athletes who are likely to gain substantial coverage, such as Usain Bolt or Jessica Ennis, pack an immense punch," he added.

"Our projections from the Beijing Games indicate around 3.6 billion people worldwide saw at least some TV coverage which gives a strong indicator to the power of this presence. This level of brand exposure is a potent force in driving sales."

Jamaican triple gold medalist Bolt is the poster boy for Germany's Puma, the third largest sporting goods company behind local rival Adidas.

Adidas has invested heavily to be the official sportswear partner of the Games, with 84, 000 volunteers and 5,000 to wear its familiar three-stripe outfits.

Adidas estimates the interest generated by the Games will bring it an extra 100 million pounds ($157 million) of sales in the UK, helping it on its way to overtake rival Nike as market leader there.

Based in Portland, Oregon, Nike remains the global market leader, with annual sales of almost $21 billion against $17 billion for Adidas. Puma, formed in 1948 after brothers fell out at Adidas, is a distant third with sales of $3.8 billion.

Nike's sales jumped 15 percent in the quarter to end-February, while Adidas reported a 14 percent rise in the first three months of the year. Puma managed only a six percent increase, trailing its larger rivals in Europe, China and the United States.

Nike, which sponsors the U.S. Olympic team, says the Games give it the chance to build a buzz around its products.

"It's like a concept car model - we get to debut these innovations on the world's best athletes, then commercialize the opportunity by providing those technologies to athletes everywhere," said Nike UK head of PR and communications Ryan Greenwood.

For its part, Adidas has made 41 different shoes that will be worn by athletes competing in 25 disciplines.

The one thing they all have in common is their weight, they are on average 25 percent lighter than the equivalent shoes worn in Beijing.

"Every 100 grammes saved in weight is equivalent to 1 percent better performance," Cartwright said.

The group has also created what it calls the lightest ever sprint spike, at 99 grammes.


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