In the 2014 World Cup of sporting goods companies, Adidas has beaten Nike hands down. The mechanics of that victory are remarkably similar to those of Germany's success on the field: It's all about smarts versus flash.
In the global sportswear market, Nike Inc. is No. 1 with a 17 percent share. Adidas AG is second with 12 percent. In soccer, where the two have a combined 70 percent share, the positions are reversed. Nike has been working hard to catch up: Its soccer sales amounted to $2.3 billion in the financial year that ended in May, compared with the $2.7 billion Adidas expects for 2014.
The World Cup was the scene of a major battle, reflected in the two sides' marketing slogans: "Risk Everything" for Nike and "All In or Nothing" for Adidas.
Going into the tournament, Nike was making the extra effort expected of an ambitious No. 2. It sponsored 10 of the 32 teams, including the favorite, Brazil, as well as England, Portugal, France and the Netherlands. Adidas had nine teams, including Germany, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia.
Nike had the second-most-expensive soccer shoe endorser -- Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, whom it pays $8.35 million a year (eclipsed only by David Beckham's $11.7 million a year from Adidas, but then Beckham's popularity goes well beyond soccer). It also scooped Brazilian star Neymar, who has an 11-year deal with the U.S. company worth $1 million a year. The U.S. company made a short animated film of its star-studded lineup defeating a clone army (last time I looked, it had been viewed more than 63 million times on YouTube). "Nike has traditionally outshone FIFA sponsor Adidas in terms of Buzz and acclaim for its marketing," MarketingWeek wrote before the tournament.
Nike's team has had a dismal World Cup. France's Franck Ribery was out of the tournament before it started because of an injury. England's Wayne Rooney, Spain's Andres Iniesta and Ronaldo went home in disgrace after the group stage. David Luiz captained Brazil in its 7-1 loss to Germany, in which Neymar did not play, having been injured in the previous game.
Adidas, by contrast, looked incredibly lucky with its bets on Argentine genius Lionel Messi ($3.34 million a year) and German playmaker Mesut Ozil ($4.9 million a year). Both will be playing in Sunday's final game -- Ozil in his $275 Adidas Predator Instant Battle Pack shoes and Messi in the $290 F50s that Adidas named after him.
I don't believe in luck on this scale. Adidas Chief Executive Officer Herbert Hainer is interim chairman of Bayern Munich, Germany's strongest club and home to some of the national team's top players. He understands the game. And Nike, let's face it, is an American company.
"Obviously they are attacking us heavily on football because they have discovered that football is the biggest sport," Haier said of Nike in a recent interview with London's Daily Telegraph, calling soccer by its proper name.
Apart from doing its homework and picking winners instead of losers -- and at a lower combined cost -- Adidas also showed it has a better understanding of what goes on in the heads of World Cup fans. Social media marketing company Encore Alert found that Adidas got 150 percent more engagement (such as retweets and favorites) from its World Cup tweets than from "peacetime" ones. Nike got minus 10 percent:
What fans wanted, according to the firm, was more soccer, such as colorful tweets at important moments in tense games, and less self-promotion.
Adidas's World Cup performance -- from a victory on goals scored with its shoes to the Twitter triumph -- is based on an innate feel for soccer, a knowledge that goes beyond marketing savvy. Still, it's not a foregone conclusion that consumers will reward it. The more powerful company -- Nike has 3.4 times its Bavarian rival's market value -- may win out in sales in the end.
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