Nike and Adidas claim China's heroes

The real battle in Beijing is not the struggle to top the medal table, but the multibillion-dollar fight between two giant brands intent on conquering the fastest-growing sportswear market in the world. Adidas and Nike have invested unprecedented sums in wooing Chinese consumers during the Olympics. The German firm is estimated to have spent $190m (£100m) on sponsorship and associated marketing; its US rival has stumped up close to $150m.

Adidas is sponsoring the games itself and the Chinese Olympic committee. Torchbearers, officials and volunteers are all clad in the brand; so too are Chinese champions. "Every single Chinese athlete winning a medal will be in Adidas on the podium," says Paul Pi, vice-president of marketing for Adidas China.

But Nike has fought back by sponsoring the Chinese teams in 22 of 28 Olympic sports.

At the root of this rivalry is a market a fraction the size of the US - but growing at 30% annually for the past five years. Pi concluded, "If you want to lead globally, you have to lead in China."

Nike says it passed the $1bn sales mark this spring, a year ahead of schedule. Adidas says it has leapfrogged its rival in becoming market leader by the start of the games, with sales up 60% in the first half of 2008 - though its claim is based on factors such as brand image. It is "on course" to reach $1.5bn by 2010.


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