World Cup showdown pits two soccer behemoths: Nike vs. Adidas

World Cup showdown pits two soccer behemoths: Nike vs. Adidas

Thirty-two teams are prepared to duke it out in less than a month for the 2014 World Cup — the world’s largest sporting event.

But in Brazil, a place many regard as the birthplace of soccer, another pitched battle will be taking place. And the two combatants are from Portland’s backyard.

For more than five decades, Adidas has been able to claim supremacy in the world of soccer gear sales. Umbro, Puma and others have provided a shove here and there. But Adidas was king of the mountain.

Now Nike, having only truly devoted its resources to soccer 20 years ago, is fast closing the revenue gap. Both Oregon-based Nike and Germany-based Adidas, which has its North American headquarters in Portland, are poised to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in marketing shoes, jerseys and other gear.

After the World Cup has ended, declaring the soccer brand champion will be far less clear than the winner on the field. The brand’s quarterly results don’t overlap. Nike’s fiscal year ends Sunday and full-year results, which won’t fully reflect the World Cup factor, won’t be known until late June. Adidas’ fiscal year ends after December.

“Generally, Adidas is still thought to be ahead,” in global soccer, said Paul Swinand, a Morningstar analyst.

But Adidas chief executive Herbert Hainer acknowledged last week that Nike is gaining, even in the company’s home territory of Europe. He acknowledged that Adidas faced a “head-to-head” race with Nike in the business for soccer cleats, including in Germany itself.

In lieu of a definitive Nike vs. Adidas retail sales scoreboard, this World Cup will feature likes, clicks and follows — digital hinting at customers’ brand preferences.

Hainer last week said Adidas expected 2 billion in Euros from soccer sales this year, the equivalent of about $2.8 billion. At the end of the last fiscal year, Nike reported about $2 billion in soccer sales.

Swinand said Nike, four years ago at the conclusion of the last World Cup, had clearly made significant inroads in global soccer.

“In my analysis, Nike was very close,” having reaped some benefits of kit (uniform) sponsorships with Brazil and England, “and they’ve likely inched forward since.”

Nike is sponsoring 10 of this year’s 32 teams, including host Brazil. Adidas is outfitting nine teams, including defending champion Spain and two other teams with good chances of winning: Argentina and Germany. (Puma also is outfitting nine teams, including Italy.)

In focusing on individual players, Nike has worked hard to promote Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, Neymar of Brazil and Wayne Rooney of England. Adidas has invested heavily in Lionel Messi of Argentina.

Nike sponsors six of the 10 most marketable soccer players in the world, to just three for Adidas and one for smaller German brand Puma, according to a ranking released Wednesday by sports marketing research group Repucom .

Ronaldo, sponsored by Nike, tops the ranking, with almost 84 percent of people around the world saying they know the Real Madrid striker. Messi is second, scoring 76 percent global awareness.

Video campaigns are a key conduit to reaching customers like never before. Nike and Adidas have both introduced significant World Cup-inspired campaigns — though only Adidas, through its official World Cup sponsor status, can use the term World Cup in its advertising. For the 12th straight World Cup, Adidas is also supplying the official match ball, which this year is called the “Brazuca.” Adidas and FIFA, the organization presenting the World Cup, last November extended their partnership through 2030.

Nike on April 1 launched the first part of its “Risk Everything” campaign with the second part released April 25th, called “Winner Stays.”

The Winner Stays campaign, introduced during halftime in more than 25 countries in the Champions League semi-finals on April 29 and 30, has had an estimated 275 million views. The Winner Stays campaign had 125.7 million online views as of May 19.

Adidas introduced a major World Cup TV commercial during halftime of the Champions League Final on May 24. The commercial features Messi wearing his signature adizero F50 shoes, accompanied by a soundtrack from Kanye West, the rapper who left Nike for Adidas. The commercial has had nearly 30 million views in less than a week.

While Nike makes inroads in Europe, the company’s status in soccer sales is open to debate.

Matt Powell, a sporting goods analyst with SportsOneSource, said Adidas and Nike were about even at the end of 2013. Swinand of Morningstar said Adidas was the clear leader heading into 2011.

“Our goal is to be the undisputed number-one soccer brand in the U.S.” at the conclusion of 2014, Ernesto Bruce, Portland-based director of soccer for Adidas, said earlier this week.

Nike declined to respond to Bruce’s statement.

Rest assured, both sides will be watching closely to see who emerges as a memorable star from this World Cup.

When Nike chief executive Mark Parker recounted the company’s achievements in fall 2010 for stock analysts, he didn’t bother recognizing the winning World Cup team, Adidas-wearing Spain.

He praised Andres Iniesta, the guy who scored Spain’s winning goal in a 1-0 extra time victory over Holland — and who wore a Nike shoe.

— Allan Brettman

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