LET THE GAMES BEGIN
Activewear companies are gearing up for the world’s most important sporting event as Olympic athletes enter their final training period for the Summer Games in Athens next month.
Olympics-related merchandise, which is beginning to hit stores, is usually a boon for athletic retailers and suppliers, and should help lift sales in the second half of the year.
More than 10,500 athletes are to compete in the Games from Aug. 13 to Aug. 29, which are being staged amid anxiety over global terrorism and Iraq — even as the host country struggles to complete the Olympic stadium, swimming facilities and other competition sites. Some athletes have said that they may not attend the Games, including rower Xeno Muller, who cited security concerns for his decision. Tennis player Lindsay Davenport said in May at the French Open that she may not go because of security issues and a busy schedule.
Nonetheless, the Olympics are the prime international showcase for athletic companies to reveal new products and technologies. Adidas, Reebok and Nike are incorporating wicking and other temperature-regulating systems to help keep athletes cool and dry as they compete in Athen’s sizzling heat. Many of the new technologies are being incorporated into consumer offerings for the second half of the year, including the ClimaCool system from Adidas and Reebok’s Play Dry technology.
Among the apparel companies that will have a major presence at the Games are Roots and Adidas. Both have deals with the U.S. Olympic Committee to outfit athletes. Nike has sponsorship agreements with high-profile athletes, including cyclist Lance Armstrong and sprinter Marion Jones, though it is unclear whether Jones will compete because of an investigation into the use of performance-enhancing substances.
Nike sponsors hundreds of athletes in America and around the world, including Serena Williams, as well as American leagues for sports such as track & field and soccer. In 2006, the sports giant will be become an official sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Committee, allowing it to outfit athletes on the podium as they accept their awards. Nautica, which sponsors the U.S. sailing team, and Puma, sponsor of the Jamaican Federation, are among other fashion companies with Olympics deals.
Swimming is always a focus at the Summer Games, and swimwear manufacturers plan to show off some innovations. Speedo has developed Fastskin FSII, a sleek full bodysuit created with a special surface resembling that of a shark’s skin and designed for faster times. Swim performance company Tyr has come up with Aqua Shift technology, which features specially placed raised piping, called Tripwire, designed to reduce wave and pressure drag — the resistance caused when one is swimming — for more speed.
“The Olympics are extremely important to our brand,” Craig Brommers, vice president of marketing at Speedo, said. “In 2004, we will supply athletes from over 100 different countries with swimwear, and we will have Speedo-sponsored athletes competing in various sports. We are also the official supplier for teams such as water polo and synchronized swimming.”
Sport companies plan marketing initiatives in conjunction with the Games. Adidas will incorporate former Olympic athletes such as gold-medal-winning gymnast Nadia Comaneci into its “Impossible Is Nothing” campaign, and Puma, Nike and Reebok will run television and print ads around the Games.
Other fashion firms will launch collections tied to the Games. Sportswear company Blue Marlin, for example, will debut a collection inspired by the ancient Games that will include hooded tracksuits and T-shirts, some of which have the olive wreath symbol. Camper, the footwear firm, has unveiled a collection of limited-edition footwear with images of athletes in action. Swatch, an Olympic licensee, has introduced a collection of watches incorporating Greek history, culture and heritage. The Athens 2004 graphic is featured on some styles, while other looks highlight the five rings and other Olympic images. — Melanie Kletter
Active women are interested in apparel that can take them from the gym to the grocery store and beyond, and companies have heeded their call. Many new collections are not geared to a specific sport, but are instead designed to be worn for a range of activities.
Body Glove, for example, is best known for its surfing attire, and now the company has debuted a line of women’s fitness products that can be worn for a variety of activities. Danskin is best known for its dance apparel, but now has a wide range of products that can be worn for activities including yoga, running and hiking. And some newcomers, such as Ion Actif and Icebreaker, recently entered the market with active collections that are designed for women on the go who need clothes for active living, but are not geared toward a specific sport. — M.K.
SHARAPOVA: TENNIS’ NEW FACE
Maria Sharapova’s win over Serena Williams for the Wimbledon women’s title last week took the tennis world by storm and is bound to be an endorsement bonanza for the
17-year-old heading into the second half
of the year.
Sharapova, who is represented by the IMG sports agency, already has deals with Nike, Prince and NEC computers, and her agent, Max Eisenbud, said he has been approached by hundreds of other firms.
Tall and blond, Sharapova is the latest media darling. She has appeared on NBC’s “Today’’ show and “Live with Regis and Kelly” on ABC, and is bound to draw new, younger viewers to the sport. A self-proclaimed fashionista, Sharapova was recently spotted toting a Chanel bag and will likely receive offers from companies to don their latest designs.
Nonetheless, while Sharapova has been compared with Anna Kournikova, another blond Russian tennis player, the Wimbledon champion has made it clear in interviews that she is focusing on her game. Kournikova has provided plenty of gossip fodder but has never emerged as a bona-fide tournament star. — M.K.
Consolidation has gripped the sports industry in recent months, and industry analysts forecast more in the second half of the year. The industry comprises many small companies that cater to a niche and mergers are creating stronger companies that encompass a range of athletic offerings.
Vendors are also linking up and creating new types of partnerships, and some are actively pursuing equipment companies. Reebok, for example, in April purchased The Hockey Co., which gives it entry into a new category, while New Balance bought Warrior Lacrosse in February, and Russell Corp. scooped up American Athletic in June.
Retailers are also linking up. The Sports Authority and Gart Sports merged last year, and Dick’s Sporting Goods last month bought Galyan’s Trading Corp. — M.K.