How important are Euro 2012 and the Olympics to Adidas, both as a revenue source and a brand platform?
Both are important because they have huge exposure around the world. Many million people will watch them, which makes them a great platform for our brand. But from the commercial perspective, they’re two different animals. The European Championship in football is a very good commercial opportunity because we’re the sponsor and outfitter of UEFA. That means that we’ll provide the official matchball, which gives us the opportunity to sell millions of balls. For example, during the 2010 World Cup we provided the official ball called Jabulani, and we sold 13 million balls in the Jabulani design that year. At the Euro 2012 we outfit six of the 16 teams as well, more than any other brand. Then, of course, we sell the shirts of each team – Spain, Germany, Ukraine, Russia, Denmark and Greece- and we can use the championship to introduce new products. All of this gives us great confidence that we’ll achieve record sales in football in 2012. The Olympic Games allow us to showcase our brand, to show that we’re the Olympic and performance brand and equip many different sports and athletes, but it doesn’t have an immediate commercial impact. You don’t sell track & field shirts just because Haile Gebrselassie wins the marathon, whereas in football, if a team wins you sell a lot of shirts.
Speaking of shirts: sportswear has become almost as important as sports itself. As a businessman, I’m sure you like it, but as a sports fan, don’t you think it’s a bit sad?
For us as a company it’s definitely good, and for the entire industry as well. But I’m convinced that sport isn’t suffering. Take a look at football: it was never more attractive than today. There has never been more attention paid to football than today. The stadiums are full, and it’s no longer a male-driven sport. Women attend games; so do young families with kids. And the Olympics have become more popular as well; London 2012 is expected to attract a record TV audience. So, sport hasn’t suffered at all.
What, from your perspective, will count as a success in Euro 2012 and the London Olympics?
I hope two of our teams will make it to the European Championships final. That would give us additional opportunities, because people across Europe would get excited as well. For example, at the 2006 football World Cup in Germany, we were planning on around 700,000 Germany jerseys, but in the end we sold 1.5 million. And in 2004, when the European Championship took place in Portugal, Greece was the surprise winner. Since this was Greece’s first title ever, we sold almost 300,000 Greece jerseys after the final. But as far as I’m concerned, both the Olympics and Euro 2012 are already a success, because the products are selling well.
What does it tell you about society when spectators will buy expensive jerseys of his national or club team? It doesn't make any logical sense that one buys the shirt just because one watches a game…
I’m obviously not a psychologist, but my opinion is that people want to belong to somebody, to a family. The football club is to a certain extent a family. That has been the case for the past 50 years: you have always had die-hard fans who follow their teams and travel huge distances to watch them. They do it even though it might be a huge hassle and they might end up seeing a bad game in the rain. But they have this feeling of belonging. And nowadays, and that is a difference to the past, they also express that feeling by wearing the team shirt to express to the public, “I’m a fan of the team; I belong to this family”. That might be a counter-effect to the family reality in today’s society. Families aren't as close as they were 40 years ago. Families are spread out and bonding isn’t as strong as it used to be. People are looking for a new “family”, a group of people they can share things and express themselves with. And personally I believe we’ve made the shirts much nicer; they look good with jeans so you can wear them every day.
Adidas has a shoe with a chip that functions as a coach. How much do you think such futuristic products will be able to improve athletes’ performance?
Let me give you a simple example. We have a football boot called the F50, which has been the best-selling football boot in the world for the past two years. It only weighs 160 grams, and it’s quite easy to understand: the less weight you carry on your foot, the faster and longer you can run. And when you look at the statistics of how much athletes run today compared to 30 years ago, it’s much more – today some players run 12-13 kilometers per game or even more. It’s not only because of the lighter boot, but the lighter boot helps. The same thing goes for jerseys – in the past you had cotton jerseys, which always got wet and heavy. Technology has helped to improve the jerseys and consequently athletes perform better. Of course, athletes are better trained today, they eat differently and have better physios, but the equipment helps a lot too.
What else will sports shoes be able to do in the future? Will they tell me when I’m running too fast or too slowly?
Of course. The reason why you do sports is because you want to get trained for your physical and mental benefit. In the future you’ll measure this in two ways: you’ll see what your heart-rate is, how many kilometers per hour you’re running, how many calories you’re burning, and so on. And of course there’s the preparation. Our system, miCoach, already tells you how to train if you want to achieve a certain target. Let’s assume that you want to run a marathon and your target is four hours. miCoach tells you exactly how you have to train, how long before the race you should start preparing, how many kilometers you should run per day. You connect the chip in your shoe to your computer and it tells you where you are in your progress, and finally you are in shape to run the marathon in four hours. I think that’s great – you don’t need a coach anymore, you don’t need to go to the doctor to measure your heart rate or calorie consumption. This can all be done by the system in your shoe or your clothes. Of course not everyone will like it. Some people will say, “hey, I’ve been running for the past 20 years and I like the way I’ve been doing it”, but the young generation, especially, wants much more.
Will smart shoes and shirts solve the global obesity problem?
One of the reasons I’m very optimistic about the sporting goods industry is related to the fact that today more people are conscious about a healthy lifestyle. At the same time, we see obesity all over the world, even among children, and even in China. 20 years ago that would have been hard to imagine. To fix this, we have to get people to move their bodies more, and that will obviously help our industry as well. Of course that is not the only problem – they have to eat healthier as well. But doing sports is extremely important.
So, in other words, what’s good for Adidas is good for the world’s health?
I’d say it the other way around: what’s good for the world population is good for us. Of course, there are other aspects as well. People are getting older, and they’re more body-conscious: they want to stay fit, they want to be slim, they want to look younger. They stop working at 62 or 63, and they still have 30 more years where they have time to train and practice. That helps the sports industry, too. Today 75-year-old people go to the gym and do fitness. That didn’t happen 30 years ago. And people in general just exercise more. Visit any city and you’ll see tons of people jogging. They all need shoes!
Adidas does large amounts of market research. Which trends are you seeing?
One strong trend is that society is becoming more leisure-driven; people are dressing less formally.
Clothing chains compete by setting prices as low as possible, but people pay $80 for a pair of your shoes. What’s the secret?
The consumer doesn’t pay $80 without thinking. You have to give him a reason. Over the past 30 years or so we’ve built up a lot of credibility, and products that we deliver to consumers have never disappointed them. For credibility consumers are willing to pay a bit more. In addition we have special edition activities, which other brands don’t have, for example our partnerships with Yohji Yamamoto and Stella McCartney. That’s what we do to add value to the product. We don’t just say, here’s a new sneaker, now please pay €10 more.
You’re a football fan. How do you think goal-line technology will impact football?
Referees need technical support to decide whether the ball was in or not, and to be honest, a technological solution will come one day, no matter what. A goal can decide a game, and the difference between a winner and loser can decide about millions of Euros. Remember the England-Germany game during the 2010 World Cup? England scored and the ball was clearly behind the line. With goal line technology it would have been a goal for England, but the referee didn’t see it. It’s a shame: 150 million people saw it on TV and the referee didn’t. Goal line technology would protect referees, too; they can’t see everything if there are five people crawling on the line and the ball is somewhere between them.
Speaking of the 2010 World Cup: conspiracy theorists claim that Germany had access to the official Adidas ball before everyone else. What’s your reaction?
That is obviously not true. On the day we launch the official ball for championships we’re obliged by FIFA and UEFA rules to immediately send 50 balls to each participating team, so the teams can immediately start to practice. Some did, and some did not, for whatever reason. Some had a contract with another ball manufacturer. But we treat everybody the same, and the coach decides when he wants to start practicing with the official ball.
Which shoes do you use?
All kinds of Adidas and Reebok shoes. Our product managers are so nice; they always provide me with the newest models. So I try them all.