The Games Prevail for Active Firms

The Beijing Olympics have the potential to be among the most controversial in recent memory — but activewear companies are nonetheless diving in as sponsors.

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“Adidas is conscious of the exceptional importance of the protection of human rights,” the spokeswoman said. “Sponsors, however, should not be expected to solve political issues. We clearly see the limits of our influence. In China, we focus on the protection of human rights, fair labor and environmentally sustainable conditions in the factories manufacturing our products. We believe that boycotting the Olympics is counterproductive and will therefore uphold our commitment to the Olympic Games.”

For the first time, the entire line of Adidas Olympics TECHFIT POWERWEB apparel and “Made for Beijing” footwear will be available at retail, in Adidas Sport Performance Stores and on eastbay.com. The footwear collection will consist of the shoes the athletes are wearing in 26 different sports. The shoes have functional technology as well as souvenir value, as select styles take inspiration from the Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest (for example, the outer layer of mesh on the Boxing shoe).

No small part of Adidas’ focus is wrangling for a top position in the giant Chinese market. The company is using the Games as an accelerant to invest in China, where it is building two stores a day, including its largest Adidas Sport Performance store (at about 10,000 square feet), in Beijing this spring. By 2010, China will be the company’s second largest market after the U.S., with a targeted 1 billion euros, or $1.58 billion, in sales. Adidas also rallied the Chinese public by soliciting submissions for a podium suit for the Chinese Olympic medal winners, and the winning design was selected from 2,400 public submissions.

As the first active firm to hit $1 billion in sales in China this year, Nike holds the top spot there now. The Beaverton, Ore.-based firm has been in China for 30 years, and the country is its second largest market globally. Nike is aggressively rolling out stores in China, where it boasts 3,500 doors. Last summer, the firm opened a Beijing flagship that is proving to be one of its best performing units worldwide, according to a spokesman.

For this Olympics, Nike is launching its biggest campaign ever, tailoring its iconic “Just Do It” ads to China’s youth. The campaign already rolled out in China, with a 60-second commercial featuring hurdler Liu Xiang, and will follow in the rest of the world closer to the Games. Olympic fans will be able to buy the new technology, including the lightweight Flywire shoe construction, that athletes will wear during the Games. For example, the 92-gram track shoe Zoom Victory Spike and 13-oz. basketball shoe Hyperdunk are expected to hit stores a few weeks before the Olympics this summer.
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