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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 August 2005, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK
Adidas bid raises image concerns
By Ben Richardson
BBC News business reporter

Shopper looks inside a very large Adidas shoe
The outside of a shoe is just one of the things that lure shoppers
The trainers you wear can reveal a lot about your personality.

Light-weight running shoes or bouncy basketball boots? High-tech fibres or traditional tweeds?

In much the same way, German sporting goods firm Adidas-Salomon has given us a glimpse into its corporate make up with a move to buy US rival Reebok.

The world's second-biggest maker of sport shoes and clothing is looking to challenge Nike, the swoosh-branded giant at the top of the industry.

Behind the 3.1bn euro ($3.8bn; 2.1bn) bid is an admirable ambition, but analysts worry that Adidas may struggle to plug the holes in its business.

Lacking 'clout'

"Adidas just doesn't have the traction to go it alone in the US," said Gavin Finlayson, an analyst at Commerzbank Corporate and Markets in Frankfurt.

"It has been stuck on the sidelines in the US over the past few years as it doesn't have the clout of Nike."

Joining forces with Reebok will give Adidas more power to negotiate with retailers in the US and push for better positioning and promotion.

Shopper picks up a pair of bright yellow Adidas trainers

Look outside of North America and the picture is rosier, with analysts saying that the deal complements Adidas's strengths in Europe and Asia.

It would allow the company to develop Reebok's Asian business - the company also has been making inroads into India and China - and strike better deals with producers.

Following the takeover, Adidas will have a 28% share of the world's sporting goods market, not far off Nike's 31% slice.

In the tight-margin world of shoe retailing these can prove to be valuable weapons, analysts said.

However, they are not enough to top the tree and question marks have been raised over the amount of cost-cutting that can be achieved and plans to finance the bid by taking on large amounts of debt and issuing new shares.

Fashion, colour, combinations

Key to any challenge on Nike - and just as important as pricing power and distribution networks - will be image.

Gonzalo Basilico is a 12-year-old who loves his trainers.

He has six pairs - one Reebok and the rest Nike - and uses them for football, basketball and going out.

Gonzalo has a very clear idea about which shoe brands he likes and why.

Mural of NBA player LeBron James in Hong Kong
Nike wants to promote an image of street cool and innovation

Adidas is seen as being good quality and comfortable, while Reebok is "cool".

Nike, however, manages to have a foot in both camps.

"I like Adidas, but I still prefer Nike for the fashion, colours, combinations," he said. "It's all Nike at school.

"Everyone talks about Nike, no one talks about the others."

Nick Liddell, a director of brand valuation at consultancy Interbrand, warned that merging with Reebok may only exacerbate Adidas's problems.

While Adidas has a strong performance sportswear brand - under the motto "Impossible is Nothing" - this is not carried through as powerfully into its Originals clothing range despite endorsements from stars such as Missy Elliot.

Reebok seems to have concentrated more on positioning itself as a hip clothing maker, Mr Liddell explained.

'Successful strategy'

Nike, on the other hand, has a very focused brand, which is based on sporting excellence and product innovation, Mr Liddell said.

That has a trickle down, or halo, effect on Nike's other sporting goods and helps it to sell products as lifestyle choices by linking up with people such as Lance Armstrong and tackling issues such as testicular cancer.

A pair of Adidas shoes and a pair of Reebok shoes
Analysts are unsure if the two firms compliment or hinder each other

"Sportswear and urban life wear are closely linked," Mr Liddell said, adding that Adidas and Reebok are more "schizophrenic" in their approach.

"Focus will be absolutely crucial" in determining how Adidas and Reebok do in coming years, he explained.

"As long as they can take the two brands and drive them into two separate areas where they don't cannibalise each other, but compliment each other, then it could be a successful strategy," Mr Liddell said.

According to Interbrand's most recent report on the value of global brands, Nike was ranked at number 30, up one place from the year earlier.

Adidas came in at number 71, while Reebok did not feature in the top 100.

Should the Adidas bid get shareholder and regulatory approval, then the two firms will have to work hard to change many people's preconceptions.

Watch footage of the athletes sponsored by the firms

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