adidas’ Successful ADIZERO XVI Launch in Preparation for Rio 2016 Olympic Games



Editorial Coverage Sponsored By FINIS

Commentary by Steven Selthoffer

adidas executives and staff warmly welcomed about 40 of the sport’s top influencers, distributors, media personnel, sport execs and sponsored teams to “Herzo” the home town of adidas AG for the global preview and launch of the much anticipated new aquatics line the ADIZERO XVI for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

This was more than a launch. A more precise term would be “comeback.” It showed in the effort of the adidas Group executives and staff as they interfaced with the guests and delivered their presentations. adidas AG like other manufacturers had to overcome the damaging effects of the 2004 to 2009 tech suit era brought on by the misguided leadership within FINA. adidas didn’t deserve it.

By December 2009 over 255 world records were set in approximately 22 months devastating the sport and historical comparisons as the tech suit race was set off at the 2008 Manchester FINA SC World Championships in April. Seventeen world records were set that week when Speedo unveiled its LZR Pro and Elite racing suits made of elastane-nylon and polyurethane. (By comparison, usually in every Olympic quadrennial cycle about five to six world records are set in swimming every four years).

Please see:

Suit Yourself, The FINA Leadership Disaster, By Steven V. Selthoffer, Swimming World Magazine, Pages 12-16, February, 2010.

This caused manufacturers to jump into a virtually unlimited “arms race” applying new high performance technologies on full body swim suits that resulted in buoyancy with trapped air pockets in the groin, body cavities and chest areas due to non-permeability. Air films formed on the outside of some suits to reduce drag due to air bubbles adhering to the mesh weave of the suit fabric. The application of polyurethane chest patch laminates on “hot spots,” high friction areas of the body, were other issues of concern.

Please see:

FINA World Championships, Swimming: Thoughts from Day Three from Steven Selthoffer, By Steven V. Selthoffer, European Correspondent, Swimming World, July 28, 2009, Rome ITA.

FINA World Championships, Swimming: Behind the Scenes with Steven Selthoffer, By Steven V. Selthoffer, European Correspondent, Swimming World, July 29, 2009, Rome, ITA.

Innovation vs. the Rules of Sport

With an athlete immersed in water, swimming is particularly vulnerable to “innovation.” You want the world and Olympic records to be about the athletes, not about the technology an athlete is wearing that could possibly add buoyancy, resulting in times an athlete could not achieve in the event, without wearing a particular brand of suit.

Athletes work years and years in training and that effort, those years in and out of the pool, spending thousands upon thousands of hours in dryland training and in the water in training groups to achieve those spectacular times must be protected. Those are the domains legends are made of. The sport should not be about lesser athletes coming along in a short amount of time without the same talent or work ethic, with new technology that obliterates the record books because of the suits they wear.

Freedom of Information Act Request Filed for Speedo Documentation, by Steven V. Selthoffer, European Correspondent, Swimming World, January 28, 2009.

In 2010 the tech suits were finally banned from the sport leaving many manufacturers with unsold inventory that could not be off-loaded at discounts around the globe, thus resulting in manufacturers losing millions of Euros in research, development, inventory and lost sales.

Independent Testing was also instituted by FINA after a contentious fight. Now all new suits must go through a testing process for the total amount of fabric permitted:  below the waist to the top of the knee for men, and no arms to the top of the knee for women, among other criteria for approval by FINA for global competition.

adidas Hospitality- Par Excellence

At adidas global HQ the treatment by executives and staffers was warm and welcoming. It did not go unnoticed. That states volumes about upper management. Many others stated that the adidas hospitality by each and every employee on campus was genuine and exceptional.

All of that should bode well for Herbert Hainer, CEO, Roland Auschel, Global Sales and Eric Liedtke, Global Brands.

The impression you get is that Swim within adidas is now strategically focused, connected, operating on all cylinders and it has the potential to become one of its top pillars within the adidas brand group.

Lunches were held at the adidas cafeteria where everyone was free to mingle and meet other employees from around the world giving an observer a dashboard into the whole corporate culture. Which is why other corporations should take notice of adidas’ plans and intentions.

adidas Presents a World Class Strategic Plan

The main event was adidas presenting their strategic high level plans and presentation led off by Tim Janaway, General Manager, Heart Beat Sports (HBS) and Christine Barth-Darkow, Director Swim/Individual Sports. Christine was well known to virtually everyone in the room. She has a long history in the sport and has a good reputation not only with the adidas athletes, but, outside the organization as well.

The adidas team presented their presentation and way-forward documents giving their perspective on where they are, where they were weak, what they had to do to change, and where they want to go.

NorCal distributor, Mr. Craig Dillingham later commented, “The presentation was refreshingly honest and focused.”

Personally, I’ve seen many top level strategic presentations done by McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, Booz Allen for numerous executive management board meetings at other corporations, but, this presentation was exceptionally well done. Absent was the usual sport vocabulary of combat/hype/destruction/war/bomb/hack/sick and other terms that have long overstayed their welcome in sports. With many still reeling from the recent Paris terrorist attacks, adidas’ sensitivity to the day was appreciated.

Without giving anything away, the presentation was clear, revealing a sober understanding of the length of time it takes to establish a brand globally, the number of different integrated phases that must happen successfully in proper order combined with the dive-down of global, regional, club and swimmer impact and affiliation programs.

It’s a solid, living plan and way-forward document that I believe will prove extremely accurate template as senior management reviews success and milestones years from now.

Social Networking

How powerful is the impact of adidas back in the race for the top position of best brand in swimming? Bastian Jung, Brand Communications for Swim adidas AG, showed only one, that’s right, only one photo that was released of Cesar Cielo, BRA lifting his arm taking a stroke in a pool that instantly garnered over 123K likes on Instagram. Impressive. And it was no award winning photo, only a “snapshot” that reflects the popularity that adidas holds returning to aquatics as a brand.

adidas is back and the world “Likes” it.

Strategic Intelligence and FINA

With adidas full commitment now behind Swim, leading the strategic presentations was Tim Janaway and Christine Barth-Darkow.

Concerning the touchy topic of FINA and independent testing she said, “I go frequently to the manufacturer’s meetings. I have really good cooperation with them. The suit was already approved earlier this year. It will be on the FINA Approval List for January 1, 2016. We have to be within FINA requirements. We have a very good relationship with them. Not any worse or better than anyone else. They invite us at least two times a year to discuss the rules. They are working much closer with us now, because they understood as well, as a manufacturer we are also important for the sport.”

It was good to hear. Many of us fought FINA for years in order to get independent testing in the sport. Her comments demonstrate that the manufacturers are happy and the relationship with the independent testing laboratory in Switzerland is functioning and more importantly, that FINA has come to realize that manufacturers are important also- not just for their money.

Tim Janaway, General Manager, Heart Beat Sports (HBS) summed up the strategy and new goals, “We have been in Swim for decades… We can touch nations and say what we stand for as a brand… We decided, we wanted to take (competitive) Swim very seriously. We see it as an incredibly important Olympic sport, especially the first week of the Olympics… What you see today is the result of two to three years of work, building the platform, identifying what we think are the right set of assets, putting a lot of work into the product, setting up partners across the world, people who we feel can represent us in distribution, but, also putting a lot of thought into how we want to position ourselves as a swim brand. It is a long term commitment to swim. Rio is a big step in that journey.”

The Goal To Be The Best Sport Brand in the World

A few more questions were taken by Janaway, then he concluded as he walked from the front to the rear, “We want to be the best sport brand in the world. So we want to be the best performance swim brand in the world” then walking by and seeing the iPhone voice recorder held by myself, he shouted “Hello Mum!” into the iPhone to the laughter and approval of the crowd, waving and finishing off his presentation. Gotta love Tim! Everybody does.

adidas is also targeting key clubs with the same throw weight and priority they use for football. In the past sponsoring many times just meant getting your gear from a box mailed to you. But, now adidas staff is out in the field, interfacing with the teams and swimmers. The relationship is more broadband, listening to the athletes and teams is more than just about gear. It’s a healthy working relationship and partnership on many different levels that swimming really didn’t have before with many sponsors and manufacturers.

Top Club Marseille

Morgane Mascret, Director of Communications, Cercle des Nageurs de Marseille, France came from one of the top swim clubs in Europe mentioned earlier in the strategic presentation and one of adidas’ new key sponsorships. Asked about the status of the relationship with adidas she confirmed, “Oh yes. We are very happy with the relationship. The came to us. They listen very well. It is a good, good partnership.”

She then proceeded to explain how the relationship works, what the club needed in a corporate sponsorship, what adidas provides and then showed photos of the team in adidas apparel.

Final Evening

The final day finished with a gala event at a local pool in München with the athletes introduced, then  staff put on a small “swim show” to see the new suits in the pool in action. Interviews were conducted with all the athletes and company execs demonstrating a transparency, openness, availability and authenticity rarely seen in global sports.

adidas repeatedly stated the message that they have laid down the plan to be the best swim brand in the world. Second to none. We applaud that.

Due to the small pool size and the presentation platform built over the pool, the athletes were not able to do flip turns in the relay events on the inserted specialty built bulkhead. Unfortunately, that degraded an otherwise perfect presentation. Marketing Rule Number 1 in sports: Don’t fake the sport events. It makes the audience cringe. Something else could have been done to demonstrate the athletes and suits in the water.

Analysis to Top of the Podium

adidas executives explained in the course of the evening, that they have spent the time and resources in the past three years analyzing their own company, the global market, the Olympics, WCs, the resources and capital it would take, along with obtaining the full commitment from the Executive Management Board on down to make adidas into the best performance swim brand in the world.

It looks like they are well on their way.