Kick off

Soccer ball deal sees minnow enter bigtime

Elf Hingucker in dieser Bundesligasaison – Derbystar
Giving Adidas the boot. Source: dpa

When the German soccer season kicks off this weekend, a new name will be at the heart of the action. The tiny sports company Derbystar has won the contract to be supply match soccer balls at top-tier games, kicking previous supplier Adidas out of the park.

It’s a big coup for the newcomer which, unlike its giant rival, only produces balls. The company, based near the Dutch border, puts its faith in the “outstanding aerodynamics” of its 32-panel model, which contrasts with Adidas’s Telsta, the World Cup ball, which has just six.“For us, everything is about the ball,” says Joachim Böhmer, the company’s co-CEO.

So is this another defeat for the Bavarian sports giant, after a World Cup where its teams lost out heavily to those sponsored by rival Nike? Not so much. Adidas chose not to supply the Bundesliga, Germany’s top league, this time around, opting instead to concentrate sponsorship efforts on a smaller number of major deals. This time round, it will sponsor just one team in the German league: champions Bayern Munich.

Adidas is relaxed about losing the contract – it still supplies the balls for the Champions League, the FIFA World Cup, and the European Championship. But for Derbystar, the deal is not just about a useful marketing item to sell more shoes, shirts and shorts.

New ball game

Lacking Adidas’s marketing billions, the smaller firm needs to think creatively. This year, it set out to woo a vital group of people, the kit managers who look after soccer teams’ equipment. In the run up to the new season, Derbystar has held weekend workshops for the kit crew of every club in the Bundesliga’s top two divisions.

The Bundesliga contract will bring a burst of new publicity. “A lot of new doors have opened up for us,” says co-CEO Andreas Filipovic. Sports stores, wholesalers, soccer clubs have all been in contact. Derbystar balls are now prominently displayed in most large sports retailers. The ball used by professional teams costs €140 each ($161), but a range of lower-priced models are available.

The firm’s majority owners are the Danish company Select Sport, originally established by a Danish international goalkeeper in the 1950s. A minority stake is held by Anwar Khawaja Industries, which manufactures the balls at its facilities in Pakistan.

The new contract runs for four years, offering the company a unique chance to grow. Derbystar revenues have doubled over the last eight years, and are currently €14 million per year. Much faster growth now seems a certainty, while Adidas may be left wondering if it’s scored an own goal.

Joachim Hofer covers the sports, leisure and IT sectors for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: hofer@handelsblatt.com

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