Nike is to supply the kit for more teams than Adidas for the first time ever at this year’s World Cup finals.
The two sports giants are to throw Lionel Messi against Cristiano Ronaldo and Spain against Brazil to see who can claim a bigger chunk of the multibillion-dollar market for soccer boots, shirts and shorts.
Both say they are the leaders, but analysts say Nike is making an aggressive push in key soccer markets. The company says it could soon earn more from soccer than basketball — the sport that launched Nike as a global force.
Adidas of Germany has traditionally dominated soccer pitches and is an official World Cup sponsor. Adidas will have a “dominant role” at the finals in Brazil, chief executive Herbert Hainer said this week.
Nike, which leads in sales of all sports goods, only entered the soccer market in the 1990s, but has since made stunning progress.
It will be providing kit for 10 teams at this year’s World Cup finals — Australia, Brazil, Croatia, England, France, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal, South Korea and the US.
Adidas has dropped to eight teams from 10 in 2010. It still has a formidable line-up however, with reigning champions Spain, Argentina, Colombia, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria and Russia.
Nike is “the world’s leading football brand,” Trevor Edwards, president of Nike Brands, said in an interview at the launch of the company’s latest soccer boot, the Magista, in Barcelona on Thursday.
Visibility means everything in this battle and players and their boots are to be a key weapon.
Nike sponsors Portugal star Ronaldo and Barcelona player Andres Iniesta, who are to showcase the company’s new boots at the World Cup.
Adidas have Argentina’s Messi at Barcelona, while Uruguayan goalscorer Luis Suarez are to be shooting with Adidas’s new Primeknit boots in Brazil.
With record sales of soccer gear expected this year, every market will be fought for during the four-week tournament.
“The World Cup is an opportunity to really capture the energy of football and leverage that energy to connect with our consumers,” Edwards said.
Magdalena Kondej, head of apparel research for Euromonitor, a research firm, said the World Cup will have “longer-term implications in terms of brand image and consumer brand loyalty across the globe.”
Few countries will be fought over as much as Brazil, favored to win the cup on home territory and one of the rising ecomomic powers.
By the time the World Cup starts on June 12, Nike expects to be making one billion dollars a year in Brazil, Edwards said.
“In the next two years beyond that as we get to the Olympics, the Brazilian unit will represent probably the third-largest market in the world,” behind the US and China, he added. “Brazil is a really, really important market for us.”
Euromonitor estimates that Brazil’s general sportswear market will grow by US$1.4 billion, or 12.5 percent, in this year alone.
Nike had a 12.1 percent share of the Brazilian market last year against 5.5 percent for Adidas.
“Nike’s sponsorship of the host’s national football team alone gives it a massive competitive edge,” Kondej said. “I think it will be difficult for Adidas to close the gap on Nike, although they are definitely pulling out all the stops.”
Adidas particularly has to “up their game” in social media, which has become a major tool in the struggle for consumer attention, Kondej said.
Nike has almost three million Twitter followers while Adidas has only 780,000.
Nike is in turn pulling out all the stops to get soccer market share.
“Football is the No. 1 sport in the world,” Edwards said. “That’s why the World Cup is so important. We have a significant football business, it is about US$2 billion. Our basketball business is probably a little bigger because of the number of years that it has been there.”
Nike made its name with basketball, which still dominates in the US, but the company is bracing for soccer to become its No. 1 product.
“Football is doing a great job. Given the size and popularity of the sport, I would envisage that rapidly in the future,” said Edwards, who is tipped as a potential future leader of Nike.