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Puma pins Olympic sales hopes on Bolt

FRANKFURT, Germany, July 16 – With the London Olympic games just days away, German sportswear giant Puma is pinning its hopes on sprint legend Usain Bolt to speed up sales and outpace its bigger competitors Adidas and Nike.

Bolt, the world’s fastest man who blew away his rivals to win three gold medals in Beijing four years ago, is also a key plank in the firm’s strategy to shift its focus from lifestyle clothing to sportswear.

Sportswear currently accounts for 35 percent of Puma sales but the firm’s boss Franz Koch wants to boost that to 40 percent and the company sees its sponsorship of double world-record holder Bolt as key to that aim.

“We are keen to underline that we are strong in both sectors, lifestyle and performance,” Puma’s head of international sports marketing, Christian Voigt, told AFP.

Who better than the charismatic Bolt and the Jamaican team, also sponsored by Puma, to push the firm’s dual-track strategy?

“Usain Bolt and the Jamaican team allow us to build a bridge between lifestyle and performance, a bridge they built themselves,” said Voigt.

“The way of life in Jamaica, its music, its relaxed attitude, its style, its colours. This is also Puma’s spirit,” he said.

And Puma certainly aims to capitalise on Jamaican cultural history, hiring Cedella Marley, daughter of reggae legend Bob, to design the clothes for the team.

With profits hit by the eurozone crisis, Puma is hoping for a strong Olympics to revive its fortunes.

In an earnings statement issued in April, it said net profits were down some five percent in the first three months of the year, to 74 million euros ($90 million) on sales of 821 million euros — a gain of six percent.

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For the full year, Puma is aiming at an increase of between five and 10 percent in turnover with a roughly five-percent boost in net profits. It is due to release updated figures on July 26.

It certainly has fierce competition in the run-up to the Olympics, billed as the “Battle of Britain” in terms of the fight between sports companies, with Germany’s Adidas and US firm Nike leading the pack.

Adidas is pulling no punches at the Games. Its status as an official partner allows it to kit out some 85,000 people, including flame-bearers, officials, as well as the athletes in the Olympic village.

In addition, Adidas is responsible for the kit of 11 national Olympic committees, including the British, German and French teams, and will have a presence in 25 of the 26 disciplines showcased at the Games.

Adidas has invested 100 million euros in the London Olympics and is hoping for a return of the same amount, plus a huge amount of visibility.

Nike, meanwhile, is not short of ammunition, with its sponsorship of the powerful American squad.

The US firm is also winning the media scrap on social networks, a key battleground, said Hartmut Heinrich, a consultant in marketing strategy at Vivaldi Partners.

Heinrich added that Puma’s strategy of focusing on one athlete was risky but has paid off in the past.

“Puma’s strategy is one of David versus Goliath. They fight a guerrilla campaign which consists of obtaining the maximum effect with a small budget,” the analyst told AFP.

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“Puma always tries to sponsor one sportsperson in particular. Therefore they take more risk but until now, it has always worked well for them,” added Heinrich, referring to Bolt.

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