The two sports giants will throw Lionel Messi against Cristiano Ronaldo and Spain against Brazil to see who can claim a bigger chunk of the multi-billion dollar market for football boots, shirts and shorts.
Both say they are the leaders, but analysts say Nike is making an aggressive push in key football 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 football 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 United States.
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, told AFP 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 will be a key weapon.
Nike sponsors Argentine star Messi and his Barcelona clubmate Andres Iniesta will showcase the company’s new boots at the World Cup.
Adidas have Portugal’s Ronaldo at Real Madrid and Uruguayan goalscorer Luis Suarez will be shooting with Adidas’s rival Primeknits boots in Brazil.
With record sales of football gear expected this year, every market will be fought for during the four-week tournament.
– One billion dollars a year in Brazil –
“The World Cup is an opportunity to really capture the energy of football and leverage that energy to connect with our consumers,” said Edwards.
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, favoured to win the cup on home territory and one of the rising ecomomic powers.
By the time World Cup starts on June 12, Nike expects to making one billion dollars a year in Brazil, said the executive.
“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 United States and China, Edwards added. “Brazil is a really, really important market for us.”
Euromonitor estimates that Brazil’s general sportswear market will grow by $1.4 billion, or 12.5%, just in 2014.
Nike had a 12.1% share of the Brazilian market in 2013 against 5.5% for Adidas.
“Nike’s sponsorship of the host’s national football team alone gives it a massive competitive edge,” said Kondej.
“I think it will be difficult for Adidas to close the gap on Nike although they are definitely pulling out all the stops,” she added.
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 football market share.
“Football is the number one sport in the world,” said Edwards. “That’s why the World Cup is so important.”
“We have a significant football business, it is about two billion dollars. Our basketball business is probably a little bigger because of the number of years that it has been there,” said Edwards.
Nike made its name with basketball, which still dominates in the United States, but the company is bracing for soccer to become its number one 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.