Adidas Beats Nike in European Soccer's Shirt-Sponsorship League

  • Champions, Europa League finalists wear three-stripe logo
  • Adidas teams poised to win at least three national leagues

Adidas CEO Says ‘Not Happy Where We Are’ in the U.S.

After Manchester United and Ajax Amsterdam booked their spots for the final in soccer’s UEFA Europa League, one winner is already certain: Adidas AG.

The German sporting-goods maker is sponsoring both teams, as well as the finalists of Europe’s more prestigious Champions League tournament -- Juventus and Real Madrid. Adidas’s three-stripe logo also appears on the jerseys of teams that have won or are poised to secure the titles of at least three of the continent’s biggest national competitions, in England, Germany and Italy.

The near sweep is unusual in the high-stakes world of soccer sponsorship, where Adidas competes fiercely with archrival Nike Inc. as well as Puma SE, Under Armour Inc. and other providers of gear, paying hundreds of millions of dollars for the right to adorn the biggest clubs’ shirts. Nike last year signed a 15-year contract with Chelsea worth 900 million pounds ($1.1 billion), after a deal with Adidas ends this year.

Adidas and Nike for years have been battling for the top spot in sales of soccer equipment, with the German company emerging as the clear leader in 2016. Adidas spent about 2.5 billion euros ($2.7 billion) on marketing last year, in line with its guided range of 12 percent to 13 percent of revenue. If it maintains the ratio and lifts sales according to its financial targets, it may add another 1 billion euros to its marketing budget by 2020.

While both companies are spending heavily on sponsorship, Adidas has had a better run of luck this year. Nike’s entire Champions League roster -- including Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Manchester City, Monaco and Paris St. Germain -- bowed out of the pan-European tournament. Puma didn’t fare any better with Dortmund, Arsenal and Leicester; nor did Under Armour and Tottenham Hotspur.

Adidas-sponsored Bayern Munich has already secured the German Bundesliga title, while Chelsea is poised to win England’s Premier League and Juventus leads Italy’s Serie A. In Spain’s La Liga it’s still an open race between Adidas’s Real Madrid and Nike’s Barcelona, while in France’s Ligue 1, Nike is set to come out on top with Monaco or Paris St. Germain vying for the title.

Even if Adidas outfits end up winning, there may be something in it for Nike. While shirt sponsors are chosen for an entire team, each player can pick his own shoes. While Adidas’s Real Madrid is the oddsmaker’s favorite to win the Champions League, the team’s top player, Cristiano Ronaldo, plays in Nikes.

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