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Adidas to Put U.S. Market in Hands of Ex-Nike Whiz

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a bid to recapture its former luster in the American market, German athletic shoe and apparel maker Adidas is expected to put its U.S. and Canadian operations in the hands of Rob Strasser, a former marketing whiz for Nike, the industry giant.

As part of the move, Adidas will purchase Strasser’s Portland, Ore., consulting firm and name him chief executive of Adidas America, according to sources familiar with the transaction.

Strasser left Nike in 1987 after a bitter parting with its chairman, Phil Knight. Strasser, a lawyer by training who is striking because of his 300-pound size and charismatic personality, brings Adidas much-needed credibility with large athletic specialty chains, said John Horan, publisher of the newsletter Sporting Goods Intelligence.

“The potential is not to knock off Reebok or Nike but to become a very strong alternative,” he said.

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Neither Strasser nor Adidas would comment on the deal, pending an announcement today at a sporting goods trade show in Atlanta. One source said Strasser would receive “a small minority interest” in Adidas’ North American subsidiary.

Adidas America’s headquarters would move to Portland. It is only a short jog from there to Nike’s “World Campus” in suburban Beaverton, but the distance between the two companies in U.S. market position is far greater.

As recently as the mid-1970s, Adidas was the acknowledged U.S. and world leader. Adidas shoes, with their distinctive three-stripe trademark, were the choice of the top Olympic runners, World Cup soccer players and, significantly, National Basketball Assn. stars.

Then along came Nike, with its high-tech designs, full-throttle advertising and endorsement by NBA supernova Michael Jordan. Reebok followed Nike with a phenomenal growth spurt of its own, based largely on its innovative line of women’s aerobic shoes.

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Today, Nike and Reebok share more than half the U.S. market. Adidas has less than 4%, though it remains dominant worldwide in soccer shoes and equipment.

“The problems I saw with them were not so much manufacturing or name recognition,” said basketball marketing expert John (Sonny) Vaccaro, who has worked with both Nike and Adidas. “They just quit working in the U.S. market.”

Adidas tried to recover by bringing in Peter Ueberroth’s Contrarian Group investment firm to run U.S. operations under a three-year contract that expired Dec. 31. During its tenure, it hired Strasser’s consulting firm to help develop and market a successful apparel and shoe line called Adidas Equipment.

Meanwhile, the ownership of the parent company is in flux. The controlling stake in Adidas, held by businessman Bernard Tapie, France’s urban affairs minister, is up for sale.

Robert Louis-Dreyfus, departing chief executive of the British advertising firm of Saatchi & Saatchi, is a possible buyer, Reuters said.

Shoe Wars

Adidas, which used to dominate the U.S. athletic shoe market, is hoping its latest moves will help it gain on front-runners Nike and Reebok. Below is 1991 market share figures for athletic shoe makers. Nike: 29.8% Reebok: 22.8% L.A. Gear: 8.0% Keds: 5.9% Adidas: 3.5% Converse: 3.4% ASICS: 2.8% Avia: 2.3% British Knights: 1.9% Etonic: 1.8% Source: Sporting Goods Intelligence


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