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Adidas has ambitions plans for soccer — and it’s looking to the American market to help fuel growth.
According to Ernesto Bruce, director of soccer for Adidas North America, the U.S. is one of the company’s biggest soccer opportunities. And as the brand seeks to achieve $2.8 billion in sales in the category for 2014, success in the States will be critical. But, Bruce added, the company is looking beyond this summer’s World Cup to grow the American business for the long term.
Here, the executive sounds off on the importance of the U.S. market, growing the fan base and who he’ll root for come finals time.
1. The common wisdom is that soccer is important globally but not in the U.S. Does that hold true for Adidas?
EB: [In the U.S.], the sport is still fairly young, and it faces huge competition from other long-standing professional sports. When you throw college sports into the mix, you would think soccer is not even in the [picture], but the fact of the matter is it very much is. ESPN shared with us some insights that in a fan poll of 18- to 25-year-olds, soccer is now their No. 2 favorite sport, and [Adidas soccer star] Lionel Messi is consistently in the top 10 fan polls. It’s becoming more and more relevant, and we’re investing heavily in the U.S., [which is] one of the top grossing sales soccer markets in the world for us. That surprises a lot of people, but in fact, it’s one of the most important business markets from an Adidas soccer sales perspective.
2. How will those investments play out?
EB: To fuel that fire, we’ll do it as we’ve always done: through partnerships. Our strategic partnership with Major League Soccer continues to grow at a very rapid pace [in terms of] attendance, expansion, viewership. But what’s really exciting for us is youth player development. We’re investing in marketing and promoting youth players with MLS. Players like Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez, who came up through the MLS and are playing on the U.S. national team, are the type of young players we’re not only marketing around but supporting along the way. And the MLS is investing in youth academies where players can train to be professionals. We think this has the potential to grow like wildfire. It’s a long-term play, but it’s very, very exciting. We think [the upcoming World Cup] could be transformational in terms of getting parents and kids connected to game. And [while this event] is every four years, right after, we’ll be saying “support your MLS club.” And we do that by celebrating the MLS All-Star Game [after the World Cup, on Aug. 6].
3. As head of the U.S. division of a German company, you must be in a tricky place when it comes to deciding which team to root for. Who are you predicting as the likely winner?
EB: I am in a more difficult spot than you can even imagine. I work for a German company, which means you have to root for the Germans. I’m U.S. based, so I have to root for the Americans. We’re also the sponsor of the Mexican national team, and I’m a native of Santiago, so I have to root for my country, Chile. But my prediction is that Argentina will win the World Cup, and Messi will be holding the World Cup trophy. He will be going down as the best player in history.