German Sneaker Giants Hear Nike's Footsteps

Apparently, home-field advantage doesn’t mean much in the sports apparel game. In Europe, Nike is schooling Adidas and Puma—both German companies. Though Adidas dominates the market for sneakers and workout gear in Europe, Nike is closing the gap.

As in any contest, those on the losing end have excuses. While the sportswear business last year got a healthy boost from the London Olympics and the European Championship soccer tournament, there were no such marquee events driving demand this year, Adidas said last week. Plus, the European economy is fairly hamstrung at the moment

Both are valid points. A third thesis seems valid, too: Nike is stealing Continental market share.

In the last three quarters, the Oregon-based sportswear giant posted a 7.2 percent increase in Europe sales, compared with a 4.4 percent decline at Adidas. In Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, Puma recorded a 5.3 percent sales decline in that time.

Of all the places in which Nike sells sneakers, Europe has “led the way,” according to Chief Financial Officer Donald Blair. “The growth was broad-based and particularly impressive, given the strong results last year driven by the London Olympics and the European Championships, as well as the ongoing macroeconomic weakness in the region,” Blair said on a recent call with analysts.

Translation: “We put up points despite the terrible conditions.”

The company did particularly brisk trade—double-digit percent sales gains—in Russia, Turkey, and Poland.

Nike also noted that it spent quite a bit less money in Europe recently because it didn’t have to buy as many ads and sponsorships for big tournaments. Without the summer Olympics, its “demand creation” expenses dropped 16 percent in the recent quarter.

Puma, at least, seems to concede that it is getting beat by the Swoosh logo. “We know that our business is currently in a difficult position with … sub-optimal distribution and low brand heat,” Puma Chief Executive Officer Bjørn Gulden said in a recent statement.

Adidas, meanwhile, is hoping for a boost from next summer’s soccer World Cup in Brazil. Its official match ball and jersey kits are expected to help a lot in São Paulo and—more important—in Central Europe.

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