Several leading sports brands claimed outstanding results at the Beijing Olympics, as the sports feast in the world’s second-largest sports market came to an end. Nike and Adidas both had their triumphs at the Games, but the two mega-spenders were arguably upstaged by other brands from Puma to Speedo and Li Ning.
Nike described the Beijing Games as its most successful ever in terms of brand visibility, due to the fact that it was closely linked with both of the highest-ranking nations at the competition – as the official supplier of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the sponsor of 22 out of 28 Chinese sports federations.
The victory of the U.S. basketball team and its star Nike endorsees, Kobe Bryant and Lebron James, was among the highlights for Nike, which also featured the American women’s soccer team in a full-page ad. Athletes wearing the brand in track and field were somewhat less successful than usual but still impressively represented by such runners as the Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, winner of the men’s 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Overall, about 3,000 athletes competed in Nike products.
Exactly the same number was quoted by Adidas, which sponsored 16 national Olympic Committees (NOC), including such winners as China, Great Britain and Germany. Among the most-watched was Britta Steffen, Germany’s double Olympic swimming champion, and Chris Hoy, the British cycling ace. As the official sportswear partner of the Beijing Olympics, Adidas also outfitted thousands of officials, requiring more than 3 million products.
Mediaedge:cia, a media agency, found that the ubiquitous screen presence of the sports brands had an effect – at least in China. The agency commissioned Global Market Insight to conduct online interviews of 1,000 residents of Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou during one week in April and one week in August. In April, 16 percent of the respondents recognized Adidas and 11 percent were aware of Nike. But by August, 38 percent of consumers had become familiar with Adidas, while Nike increased its rate to only 18 percent. The specialists attributed the steep rise in Adidas’ notoriety to consistent advertising for six months before the Games.
Such findings might have emboldened Adidas to yet again proclaim market leadership in China. In a presentation to media in Beijing it placed its market share at 22 percent ahead of Nike at 21 percent, Li Ning at 16 percent and Anta at 12 percent, using its own estimates. They sharply contrast with research published by Nike earlier this year, stating that its market share in China was 33 percent higher than that of Adidas.
Adidas has so far failed to issue a figure matching the revenues of $1.1 billion quoted by Nike for the brand in the Chinese market for the fiscal year ended on May 31. After sales growth of more than 60 percent for the group in China in constant currencies in the first half of this year, Adidas reiterated that it was on track to reach sales of more than €1 billion as a group in China by 2010 – which, at current exchange and market growth rates, would in fact suggest lower annualized Adidas brand sales in China than Nike’s $1.1 billion.
At the Games, however, it was Puma that arguably enjoyed the most spectacular triumph with Usain Bolt, the Jamaican runner who raced to three gold medals clad in Puma from head to toe. He wore a Puma shirt as part of the Jamaican track and field federation’s contract with the brand, and he made sure to impress it on the viewers that he had a personal deal with Puma for his footwear – by taking off his golden spikes even faster than he ran and waving them in front of crowds and cameras (admittedly, the replays show that the laces of his Pumas were untied even before the end of the race). Nike’s Asafa Powell and the Adidas-spiked Gay Tyson could only look on in disappointment.
Puma badly needs the boost in China, where it trails miles behind any of the other iconic international sports brands. Yet, the company points out that the spectacular performance of Bolt and other Jamaican sprinters strongly reinforces its credibility in the running segment.
Speedo gained huge exposure through the extraordinary feats of Michael Phelps. The American swimmer and his eight gold medals generated enough excitement for Speedo to reward him with a bonus of $1 million. Speedo, which has been supporting the swimmer since 2001, had promised the bonus in 2003, if Phelps won at least seven medals in a single Olympics. The swimmer immediately announced that he was donating the money to the Michael Phelps Foundation, which chiefly aims to encourage children to live a healthy lifestyle. It remains unclear whether the bonus was paid by Speedo International or by Warnaco, its American licensee, but the two have announced an additional donation of $200,000 to the foundation in honor of his eighth gold medal in Beijing.
Some records show that, apart from Phelps, swimmers donning Speedo suits won nearly 90 percent of the swimming medals in Beijing. Zeta Interactive, an internet research company, found that the medal haul led to a rise of 128 percent in global online chatter about the brand during and after the Games – a much higher score than any of the other brands.
Another brand that enjoyed Olympic buzz was Li Ning. It sponsored the Chinese gymnastics team and stole the show at the opening ceremony after Li Ning himself, the gymnast who gave his name to the brand, was picked as the last torchbearer. The Mediaedge:cia survey found that Li Ning’s brand awareness among Chinese consumers rose from 8 percent in April 2008 to 20 percent in August.
A few days after the closing ceremony, the brand revealed just how fast it could run, with sales growth of 60.3 percent to 3,060 billion renmimbi (€309.87b-$448.17b) for the first half of this year. Much of the expansion was generated by the opening of 717 stores during the period. However, Li Ning stated that it had also benefited from the excitement around the Olympics, and the Games themselves could be most useful to help the Chinese brand spread beyond its own market.
The World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI) also looked back on successful Olympics, as it managed to solve several pressing issues and to make progress on others. One of the major problems on the spot was that hundreds of athletes had to buy their own clothing in regular stores, since 72 of the 204 NOCs failed to find a supplier. These athletes therefore often turned up with clothing that did not comply with Rule 51, detailing the size and shape of brand identification on the garments worn at the Olympics. To avoid the exclusion of any athletes on these grounds, the WFSGI and its members jumped to the rescue.
Another problem was to defend the rights of the sports brands to place ads relating to the Games and sponsored athletes during the Olympics. The WFSGI obtained an exemption allowing sports companies to do so, provided they obtain approval from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the NOCs. However, seven of these NOCs refuse to comply with the agreement and still forbid Olympics-related advertising by sports brands other than their own sponsor on their territory during the Games. This is a headache given the fact that renegades include the USA, Japan and Australia. For example, the USOC would prevent Puma from placing ads to congratulate Usain Bolt on his victories in the U.S. media.
The issue led to some friction in Beijing, particularly around online advertising, but all of the informal complaints could be solved with the WFSGI’s help and without legal costs. The organization now aims to find a more lasting solution: As it points out, the NOCs that still ban ads by sports brands other than their sponsors in their territory argue that they do so to protect the rights of their sponsors, but the sponsors themselves do not support the restrictions.
Forty-one percent of the population of the U.K. watched at least part of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, according to a survey by Sports Marketing Surveys. From a sampling of 3,004 members of the general public and 476 “sports fans,” the market research company gleaned that 17 percent of the population had no interest in the Games. Twenty-five percent said they were not going to watch the opening ceremony on political grounds, but nearly half of these changed their minds and watched at least some of it. Among sports fans, 77 percent who did watch the ceremony thought it was better than the opening of the Athens Olympics in 2004, and almost a third watched all four hours of the programming. Also among sports fans, 9 percent did not watch the ceremony because of their political concerns, but 31 percent watched it nevertheless.