By and  on August 23, 2007

CANTON, Mass. — Reebok will focus on running and women as new parent company Adidas-Salomon AG seeks to establish a clear strategic vision for the sports brand.

As a much smaller third player in the Nike and Adidas-dominated athletic universe, Reebok wants to find its place at the intersection of sport and lifestyle, said executives at the company's 60-acre campus here. That may steer Reebok, with an estimated $4.1 billion in revenues, on a collision course with Puma for the same customers.

"Our biggest accomplishment so far has been to set a strategy," said Uli Becker, a 16-year Adidas veteran who joined Reebok 12 months ago as chief marketing officer. "The lack of consistency was a big issue."

The athletic sector overall is thriving — and garnering acquisitive interest — as more women turn to activewear as a substitute for sportswear in addition to donning it in the gym. The sector generates $22 billion in revenues in the U.S. annually.

German sports conglomerate Adidas-Salomon acquired Reebok for $3.8 billion last year to gain another brand vehicle to reach consumers, particularly in the U.S., as it competes with Nike. French retail and luxury giant PPR bought Puma in July in a deal valuing the company at $7.3 billion. Reebok and Puma have been struggling with soft U.S. sales, although Puma had been one of the hottest brands of the past decade with an apparel business Reebok hopes to emulate.

Former Reebok chief executive officer Paul Fireman, who turned an obscure British track brand into an athletic powerhouse over decades of leadership, engineered the Adidas deal. But toward the end of his reign, Becker said Reebok chased one too many creative whims, diluting its appeal to consumers and straining its internal teams. The remedy, he added, is strategic discipline.

"We want to define the line between sport and lifestyle without hitting the extreme of either one," he said. "We believe Puma isn't fully legitimate in sport. They don't own [the niche] yet and we think we can over time."

In a departure from the Fireman era, Reebok is moving away from partnerships with entertainers and hip-hop artists to focus on product it believes will have broader appeal and salability. Reebok had inked endorsement and design deals with rapper 50 Cent, quadriplegic rugby player Mark Zupan and actress Scarlett Johansson, among others. The brand signature was "I Am What I Am," an advertising campaign featuring gritty, black-and-white photos of stars.

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