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Thursday
Jun242010

Kickin' The Balls: How Adidas Is Fighting To Win The World Cup Battle Of The Brands

From now through July 11, the world will be engulfed by the sports spectacle of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The full tournament lasts a month and begins with 32 nations. But as Molly Maixner, brand marketing manager for Adidas soccer, explains, planning for and maintaining a presence at the World Cup is a 24/7/365 challenge with high stakes not only for players and coaches but also for marketers that have paid significant dollars to become official global FIFA partners.

By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
(Posted June 23, 2010)


Adidas has been a FIFA partner since 1970 and has a deal through the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. FIFA has a short list of six top tier global marketing partners on its roster for the event being played in South Africa: adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates, Hyundai, Sony and Visa.

Adidas paid $350 million for a seven-year deal (which expires after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil) to be an official FIFA top tier partner, supplying game balls (the Jabulani designed for the 2010 tournament) and outfitting FIFA officials and refs. But being a FIFA partner in a category where global sales of products could top $11 billion this year, according to marketing and research firm NPD Group, Port Washington, NY, means never resting on your laurels.

Adidas has called on athlete spokesmen from other sports to support such campaigns as "Matchups" and "Every Team Needs . . . (A Fan, A Jersey With a Story, A Quest, The  Spark and other ongoing themes), including Dwight Howard (NBA), Reggie Bush (NFL), BJ Upton (MLB), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Nascar) and even soccer star David Beckham (MLS, who could not play for England's national squad due to an injury).

In 2010, non-FIFA marketers such as Nike are spending millions in marketing to activate around the event. Two areas in particular are valuable territory that adidas is working to protect: Nations are able to make their own deals for uniforms, and adidas began the tournament with 12 teams, including Germany, Mexico, Spain and host South Africa. (Nike had ten and Puma had seven. Nike will also take over from adidas as official sponsor of France's troubled national team beginning in 2011.)

In addition, players themselves are able to make shoe deals. The F50 adiZero designed for the tournament is being worn by athletes including Lionel Messi (Argentina), Steven Pienaar (South Africa), Jozy Altidore (U.S.), Lukas Podolski (Germany) and David Villa (Spain).

During a press conference on June 21, adidas CEO Herbert Hainer said that the company has seen "record sales of at least $1.9 billion in its soccer category" this year as a direct result of the World Cup. According to Hainer, that represents a 15% increase from soccer-related sales in 2008 and a 25% increase from the 2006 World Cup, which was held in adidas' back yard in Germany. "Our football business is growing worldwide," said Hainer during the press conference. "This underlines the global power this tournament has. No matter how you look at it, in terms of sales, market share and visibility, adidas is and will remain the leading football brand."

With the U.S. bidding for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup, it seems likely that Nike will gather its forces to take a run at being a FIFA partner in the category. Molly Maixner, brand marketing manager for Adidas soccer, spoke with NYSportsJournalism about adidas' World Cup current and future business and marketing efforts and the company's on-going activations behind soccer in the U.S.

NYSportsJournalism.com: I know you are at adidas headquarters in Portland, so I imagine there are a lot of TVs tuned to the World Cup in South Africa.
Molly Maixner: There are. It's very entertaining and helpful during the games. But its also very distracting. [Laughs.]

NBA star Dwight Howard catches World Cup fever as part of adidas' campaign.NYSJ: What are some of the unique challenges adidas faced when it put together marketing and business strategies for the month-long World Cup that attracts massive global attention?
MM: Adidas has a long history with FIFA and the World Cup, as do many of the adidas executives. Most importantly, the 30 days of the World Cup allows adidas to speak to consumers in a really relevant way. It is an amazing opportunity for us. For example, as part of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, adidas it running two major campaigns. One speaks to all fans and utilizes some of our key sports athletes from some of our other key categories: Dwight Howard, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Reggie Bush and BJ Upton. We have a [commercial] with David Beckham and Snoop Dogg that uses a Star Wars setting [and includes Harrison Ford, CP3O, R2D2 and many others]. We are using our official alliances with the NBA, Major League Soccer and other sports in a variety of ways to excite and engage sports fans across the U.S. through interactions to support the U.S. national team.

NYSJ: How are you trying to reach the dedicated soccer fans and interact with them throughout the tournament?
MM: We are using a concept directed at the more fanatic soccer fan, which is called "Matchups." During the 30 days of the tournament, it allows fans to engage with our brand through the interaction of athletes. So you would hook up two athletes, say Josy Altidore of the U.S. National Team before they took on England and utilize statistics  that compare athletes as well as teams and histories. It is a great opportunity for us to incite conversation and to really but our brand message and engage consumers throughout the entire course of the tournament.

Some players have complained about the Jabulani. but adidas could sell 13 million this year.NYSJ: The World Cup is every four years, so is that the cycle adidas also follows?
MM: Definitely. Adidas started to plan for the 2010 World Cup the day the 2006 World Cup in Germany ended. From a marketing standpoint, we launched our campaign which is "Every Team Needs . . . " which focuses on highlighting our key athletes and products and focusing on a team message in May 2009. Now, as we look forward to moving toward 2014 in Brazil we are already planning for that. The World Cup is very much a tent pole event for adidas. And as the leaders in soccer we make sure that we continue to push the envelope not only for products and through the athletes who represent our brand but also through how we communicate with consumers and fans throughout the course of business.

NYSJ: How are you updating and keeping your messages fresh and relevant with activation during the course of the month-long tournament?
MM:  We are doing that in several ways. At the adidas soccer Facebook page, for example, people can log on for continually new experiences  on a daily basis based on the matches. The "Matchups" campaign lives on our Facebook page where depending on the games that day there will be new pairings of athletes as the teams compete against each other. So that runs all the way through the tournament. And if you look at our more general "Every Team Needs . . ." campaign, that targets not just soccer fans but sports fans, someone who watches Michigan football or basketball during the season and is now interested in the World Cup because it is such a large global event. So you'll see the cross-category athletes such as Dwight Howard, Reggie Bush and Dale Jr., who are helping to incite conversations by updating videos about the World Cup, how they are showcasing their excitement for the U.S. team.

NYSJ: What are you doing on-site?
MM: There is a lot of visible presence at each stadium and in the cities [hosting World Cup matches]. A lot of interaction with fans in South Africa and a lot of support for the local soccer clubs, coaches and players. We sent Reggie Bush down to South Africa to bring in first-person that excitement back to the U.S. He has been using Twitter [where he has more than 1 million followers] and has been at games and touring South Africa [including the Nelson Mandela Foundation with retired soccer legend and adidas spokesman Zinedine Zidane]. So throughout the course of the 30-day tournament adidas will continually be speaking to consumers, the general as well as the fanatic soccer fans. And that gives us an amazing opportunity to showcase our leadership and remain relevant with consumers.

"The momentum that the World Cup is going to create in the marketplace around soccer is going to continue and also will continue to help evolve MLS."

NYSJ: Is the use of Facebook and social media the biggest change you've seen in reaching consumers since the 2006 World Cup?
MM: We use a 360-degree marketing approach, so social media certainly has gained importance along with in-store, PR, sports marketing events and [traditional] advertising. Digital has become a huge initiative for our brand. It's where a lot of our consumers are, and we want to be in those places. Back in 2006 we one of the pioneers utilizing MySpace to reach a large fan base and to communicate out with those fans during the course of the tournament. What's really different as we look at 2010 is that with Facebook and social media is that we are enabling consumers to have a conversation with us as well. It is no longer a one-way conversation, but a two-way conversation. Which is really exciting from a marketing perspective and a brand perspective to be able to speak to consumers in relevant terms and to have them engage with our brand in a positive manner.

BJ Upton of the Tampa Bay Rays channels his soccer side.NYSJ: How have you been able to take what you have learned and used with regards to World Cup and soccer marketing and translate that to basketball and other adidas categories, and vice versa?
MM: We have the great opportunity as a leading sports brand in the marketplace to work across categories and to focus on what is working. For instance, during NBA All-Star Weekend, for the past several years we have really utilized digital media to bring the events back to consumers. Dwight Howard has been a big part of our World Cup campaign doing many of the things he did for us during our the All-Star Weekend campaigns when he was tweeting and using all forms of digital media to communicate with fans. So we are taking a lot of what we are learning from our various events on a global and a national level and translate that to establish our brand and to help further our leadership across categories.

NYSJ: Are athletes such as David Beckham, Dwight Howard and Dale Earnhardt Jr. still valuable assets in marketing and getting consumers to purchase products?
MM: Yes. At adidas, if you look at it from a sports marketing perspective, we make sure that we interact with athletes who represent our brand well. We are very much about being a team brand and a brand that focuses on leading the marketplace with innovative products. And our athletes continue to help make our message more relevant. There is our attitude and of course their performance on the pitch or on the court. So when you are talking about Dwight Howard, he is a great ambassador for us across categories. But you also look at some of our key athletes who are playing at the World Cup: Messi, Josy, David Villa all playing in our new F50 adiZero boot. And what we are seeing is that through the use of our athletes there has been an enormous growth in sales by connecting the F50 adiZero boot to the World Cup athletes.

NYSJ: Adidas is one of six top-tier global marketing partners with FIFA, and FIFA has been taking major steps to protect its partners and to minimize ambush marketing. But how difficult a challenge is that given the global reach of the World Cup and the number of marketers not affiliated with FIFA that want to profit from the tournament?
MM: Adidas has a long history with the World Cup. We've been FIFA partners since 1970. We have no doubt that we are the most visible brand by far at the World Cup. And through our sponsorship of FIFA, which includes the official match ball, and through our partnership with ESPN, we know that we will continue to be seen as the leader in the category as well as the most visible brand.

NYSJ: Has that held true on a global level during the World Cup?
MM: I think especially with the World Cup and marketing on a global platform, it really gives us the opportunity to showcase our strengths. So if you were to go to any country watching the World Cup at this point in time you would see adidas as the leader. If you go in a social media realm on a Facebook page within each country, say China, you would see within their social media network you would see specific messaging that is pertinent to fans and consumers there. So we are working within the company and, in this case, in conjunction with FIFA on a global level to continue to have consistent messaging that is relevant to consumers wherever we may be and to keep maintain adidas as the leading brand.

David Beckham has been a visible spokesman for adidas at the World Cup and with MLS,NYSJ: International soccer long has had jersey-front sponsors, and MLS has about 75% of its teams with jersey-front sponsors. Now that it also is increasing in the WNBA, do you see that continuing through other sports in the U.S.?
MM: That really has to be answered on a per-league basis. For adidas, we will continue to focus on providing the best products, be it apparel, footwear or hard goods to ensure that athletes are playing at the best of their game. As it pertains to sponsors and how a league chooses to help further their message that's something I don't have the knowledge to address.

NYSJ: What is adidas doing to help soccer in the U.S. continue to grow, and do you anticipate more interest in MLS from casual and non-soccer fans from the 2010 World Cup?
MM: Adidas has a strong history with Major League Soccer and we will continue to extend that partnership and to help inspire soccer in America. Through our partnership with MLS we have seen growth in attendance and the sales of soccer products in the past year. The momentum that the World Cup is going to create in the marketplace around soccer is going to continue and also will continue to help evolve MLS. We will continue to stand by them as a strong partner. MLS is the premium brand of soccer in the U.S., and adidas is the No. 1 brand. So it definitely is a connection that we want to continue and evolve.

NYSJ: When does planning for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil begin?
MM: As soon as the 2010 World Cup champion is crowned on July 11, there are meetings already planned. The World Cup is a very important event for our company and we want to make sure that we are always on the top of our game.

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