June 24, 2015 / 12:24 PM / 2 years ago

Adidas to grow soccer sales by getting back to roots

Jun 12, 2015; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Adidas Conext15 soccer balls on the field before the game between Australia and Nigeria in a Group D soccer match in the 2015 FIFA women's World Cup at Winnipeg Stadium. Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports

BERLIN (Reuters) - German sportswear firm Adidas presented plans on Wednesday to defend its position as the world’s top soccer brand against fierce competition from Nike by launching a new range of footwear and setting up more grassroots programs.

Adidas said it aims to increase sales from soccer gear at a mid-single-digit rate annually on average from 2015 to 2020 on a currency-neutral basis. That is lower than the “high-single-digit” growth rate it set for group sales in March and reflects the challenges it faces from U.S. rival Nike.

The two companies dominate a soccer kit industry worth more than $5 billion a year, sharing more than 80 percent of the market for many products. But Nike has been threatening Adidas’ leadership, including in its home territory of western Europe.

Adidas, which saw the 2014 World Cup help boost its soccer sales by more than 20 percent to 2.1 billion euros ($2.35 billion), said it would do more to connect with a broader range of players with permanent or temporary grassroots programs.

“Soccer still starts on the street. This is where the kids get in touch with the sport,” Adidas soccer head Markus Baumann told analysts, noting that 226 million unregistered soccer players worldwide dwarfed the 30 million registered.

Adidas is setting up soccer centers in key cities around the world with a focus on street players, including different kinds of pitches, shoot-out areas, lounges and bars.

In the professional game, Baumann said Adidas would focus on the top three soccer leagues in the world - in England, Germany and Spain - as well as the top 25 clubs.

Adidas last year struck a record shirt deal with former British champions Manchester United, ousting Nike. It will also replace Nike at Italian champions Juventus this summer and has extended an outfitting deal with Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich. The U.S. company, however, has struck deals with many other top clubs and players.

STICKING WITH FIFA FOR NOW

Adidas has faced calls to end its support for FIFA due to the corruption scandal engulfing soccer’s world governing body. But Baumann said the company has no intention of changing its contracts with FIFA and Europe’s soccer authority UEFA in the next couple of years, noting that both are long-term contracts.

However, Baumann said that when contracts come up for renegotiation, Adidas would consider how influential this kind of partnership is to its target consumer.

It is focusing on boosting sales of footwear rather than apparel, and this month scrapped its four established soccer shoe brands and launched two new ones, the “X” and “ACE”.

Baumann said marketing of the new shoes, which respond to a new footballing philosophy which divides players into those specializing in control and those who bring unpredictability and speed to the game, had already reached 40 million consumers.

Adidas also set a target to double currency-neutral sales from its running business from 2015 to 2020 by connecting with local communities of runners and focusing on the North American market, where it hopes for significant market share gains.

Mirroring its approach in soccer, Adidas plans to set up bases in Boston, Los Angeles and New York to showcase products and services for urban runners, particularly its lightweight Boost shoes which it hopes will sell 15 million pairs this year.

It will also be designing more running shoes specifically for the U.S. market, helped by a new footwear design studio in Brooklyn to be staffed by three former Nike shoe experts.

Further, Adidas hopes to increase sales from its sports-inspired fashion brand Originals by 50 percent by 2020. Adidas made sales of 1.5 billion euros in running in 2014 and 2.6 billion from Originals.

Editing by Jonathan Gould and Mark Heinrich

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