Sports

Puma Makes a Multimillion-Dollar Bet on a Slower Usain Bolt


Jamaica's Usain Bolt celebrates after winning the men's 4x100 meters relay final at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow on Aug. 18

Photograph by Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images

Jamaica's Usain Bolt celebrates after winning the men's 4x100 meters relay final at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow on Aug. 18

This week, Puma (PUM:GR) reupped its contract with Usain Bolt for an undisclosed sum, although the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph puts the terms of the new deal in the stratosphere, at least for a track-and-field athlete: $10 million a year through 2016, an “extra $10 million” if Bolt competes in the world championships in London in 2017, and an additional $4 million annual salary to serve as a “Puma ambassador” on retirement. The deal follows the sprinter’s announcement on Sept. 4 that he will retire after the 2016 games, though he has since intimated that he might not hang up the spikes quite so soon—perhaps an extra $10 million changed his mind.

If the Daily Mail has it right, that’s even more generous than his previous, $9 million-per-year contract with Puma and on a par with Rafael Nadal’s yearly payout from Nike (NKE). Is Puma getting its money’s worth? Maybe so, says Nigel Currie, managing director of the British company Brandrapport. “The impact he’s had for Puma can’t be overstated,” he says. “It’s certainly given Puma the credibility and the step up that it needed to be seen as a major player—that life isn’t all about Adidas (ADS:GR) and Nike.”

According to the data firm Repucom, which measures “consumer perceptions of celebrities,” Bolt ranks 36th worldwide in influence, which the firm defines as the measure to which a celebrity can affect “brand consideration” and “purchase intent.” That puts him in league with Peyton Manning and LeBron James (although Bolt’s worldwide ranking as an endorser is lower).

According to Repucom product manager Kathy Gardner, Tom Brady and Derek Jeter are Bolt analogues in the U.S.; internationally Bolt is in a league with Rafael Nadal and Michael Phelps. “He generates the highest endorsement score in Mexico, with the U.S. in the middle of the pack and Germany at the bottom,” Gardner says. “Even in his worst-scoring markets, he’s well above the median endorser.” (Who’s a median endorser? The Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice, for one, or the New York Yankees’ Jorge Posada.)

After resigning Bolt in 2010, Puma also expanded its roster of European soccer stars. In May, the company secured a five-year deal with the London-based Premier League team Arsenal F.C., valued at roughly $270 million (£170 million). The deal will go into effect in time for the 2014 season and end a two-decade partnership between the Gunners and Nike. According to the Daily Mail, Puma beat Adidas to the punch. “Adidas had also reportedly targeted the Gunners in a way which has been described as a ‘strategic decision to own London.’” It is the highest-profile team to wear Puma gear yet. The company also sponsors Borussia Dortmund in Germany, in addition to Newcastle United in England and F.C. Girondins de Bordeaux in France.

On the track, Bolt is showing some signs of mortality. Over the course of this year, his best time in the 200 meters represented his slowest season-best performance since 2007. In the 100 meters—Bolt’s main event—his quickest sprint clocked in at 9.77-seconds. According to ESPN, that “was still the Jamaican’s slowest season-best time since 2010, when his fastest was 9.82.”

He is still faster than everyone else. He won this year’s world championships, then closed out the season on Sept. 6 with a victory in the 100 meters at the Memorial Van Damme in Brussels. He still holds the title of “fastest man in the world.” As the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay observed in 2012: “The most satisfying part of Bolt—even more than his brilliant runs—is how much he demolishes the myth that the world wants humble athletes.” Or, for that matter, poor ones.

Mayo is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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Companies Mentioned

  • PUM:GR
    (Puma SE)
    • $168.78 EUR
    • -1.26
    • -0.75%
  • NKE
    (NIKE Inc)
    • $94.84 USD
    • -2.24
    • -2.36%
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