Ready, set, go

Nike battles Adidas for supremacy in Berlin

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The race is on. Source: Picture Alliance/DPA

Nike is bringing the battle for world market share to the home turf of Adidas, its biggest rival. The US maker of sporting goods, which last year declared Berlin one of its 12 key cities for global growth, is using its sponsorship of the European Athletics Championships in the German capital this week to win over hearts and minds.

“The city is young, creative and crazy about sports,” said Bert Hoyt, head of European operations for Nike. “We have to be on the spot.”

Nike is trying to steal a march on Adidas, which targeted six global cities for growth but neglected to include any German ones. Berlin doesn’t have the size or renown of London and Paris, featured on both lists, but it sets the pace for the nation’s cities and is a major tourist destination, especially for young people.

“The city is a trendsetter for consumers in Hamburg, Munich or Stuttgart,” Mr. Hoyt said. Being in the city will allow Nike to react quickly to new trends. The company says it can get new shirts and shorts into stores in just two or three weeks and variations on shoe models within three months.

Bustling consumers beat staid functionaries

Nike is in the process of moving its German headquarters to Berlin from the financial center of Frankfurt, in central Germany. For years, the US manufacturer had wooed the German Football Association based near Frankfurt, but the governing body for soccer remained loyal to Adidas, the domestic producer.

In the meantime, Nike decided the bustling consumer atmosphere in Berlin is a better environment than proximity to soccer functionaries. “In Berlin, we engage with customers, they inspire us,” Mr. Hoyt said. “It’s important to be in the middle of this melting pot of cultures.”

For instance, Nike enlisted the support of two Berliners: Muslim boxer Zeina Nassar and the rapper and activist Eunique. They will help spread the brand to their followers on Instagram and Snapchat as influencers.

While on the other hand, the posters Nike plastered across Berlin for the European Athletics Championships feature the very Aryan-looking sprinter Gregor Traber and javelin champion Thomas Röhler, evoking imagery that would not have been out of place at the infamous 1936 Berlin Olympics.

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In addition to the national capitals of Germany, France and Britain, Nike has designated Barcelona and Milan as key cities. Like Adidas, it considers Los Angeles, New York, Shanghai and Tokyo as global trendsetters and growth centers. Nike also adds Mexico City, Seoul and Beijing to its list.

Adidas’ “key cities” strategy has worked well for the German manufacturer. Located in northern Bavaria, the company apparently felt little need to single out German cities as priorities for marketing. “Berlin is obviously a focal point of our activities in Germany,” a spokeswoman said. Adidas sponsors the Berlin Marathon, one of the biggest running events in the world. Berlin is home to its largest store and the company’s only outlet in Europe that caters especially to joggers.

The emphasis on Europe is already paying off for Nike. First-quarter sales in its Europe, Middle East and North Africa regions rose 10 percent after adjusting for currency fluctuations, to €2.1 billion ($2.4 billion).

Joachim Hofer covers leisure and sports for Handelsblatt. Darrell Delamaide adapted this story into English for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author:

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