The tussle between sportswear brands at the Games has always been fierce and this edition will be no different. Adidas,the second-largest sportswear manufacturer in the world is the official sponsor of the London Games while Nike,the market leader,is the kit sponsor of the United States Olympic-bound team.
The Great Britain team is sponsored by Adidas but some of its top athletes have contracts with Nike,including marathon runner Paula Radcliffe. The worlds fastest man Usain Bolt is a brand ambassador for Puma,which also sponsors the Jamaican Olympic squad.
Though Olympic charter rules forbid athletes from ambush marketing,it will be difficult for sponsors to wean away athletes from their contracts or have a say in who wears what,unless an athletes individual sponsor is the same as the team kit sponsor or the Games sponsor. Footwear will be largely exempted from this as it is classified as equipment.
Adidas (world wide annual sales $17 billion) is hoping that the effort and money spent on marketing and sponsorship around the London Games will help them overtake Nike ($21 billion) as the market leader in the UK,Reuters reported.
Puma will hope that the larger-than-life image of Bolt will help them move up the sales charts. But the market leaders are past masters when it comes to squeezing the maximum mileage from their star athletes during the Games.
Nikes most famous brand ambassador Michael (Air) Jordan draped an American flag around his shoulder to ensure the Reebok patch on the official American awards ceremony uniform was hidden during the basketball medal ceremony after the win over Croatia in the final of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Team-mates Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson too had the star-spangled banner draped over them to ensure that they didn’t hurt their long-term sponsor. Some of the other Nike-sponsored members of the Dream Team unzipped their jackets so that the collars partially hid the rival brands logo.
Jordan later said that he wished there were more American flags available because all players wanted to be part of the patriotic flag-show.
The shoes to be worn by athletes across disciplines at London is on an average 20-25 per cent lighter than what were used at the Beijing Games in 2008. The challenge for shoes manufactures is to ensure that lightness and durability co-exist; the latter,in some cases,needs to be for just about the duration of the event about 11 seconds in the 100m and 21 seconds in the 200m. One of the most famous custom-built shoes were the golden pair worn by American legend Michael Johnson,while on way to the 400-metres gold at the 1996 Atlanta Games. His shoes tipped the scales at 112 grams and its lifespan was just 40 seconds and that too only in a single competitive race. At the London Games,Nikes premium technology for shoes being used across most disciplines results in a pair weighing in at about 158 grams,while Adidas has unveiled its own range that is as appealing as those produced by its rivals. Star designers are also making a mark. Stella McCartney,daughter of Beatles’ Paul McCartney,has designed the kits for the UK team,while Cedella Marley,Bob Marley’s daughter is in-charge of the Jamaican team kit.
The ugly side
The inconvenient issue of poor working conditions in factories where sportswear is manufactured is in focus again in the run-up to the Olympics. The Observer reported in March that at some of these factories where Nike,Adidas and Puma outsource the manufacturing to local contractors workers were paid as little as nine pence (Rs 8) an hour,while the average worker was paid about 16 pence (Rs 14) for 60 minutes of work. The Observer also found that one in three workers were employed for over 80 hours a week.