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Adidas (ADDDF) has made soccer shoes since the 1920s, ruling the sport for much of that time. Archrival Nike (NKE), which started ramping up its soccer business in the mid-1990s, has sought to surpass the German company as the sport’s biggest brand by sponsoring top teams like Barcelona and popular players such as Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Now Adidas has unveiled a new play to stay ahead: a shoe that uses an embedded chip to collect and wirelessly transmit information players can use to step up their game.
“We’re able to show you what you did, give you the key metrics of your game, and enable you to compare this to your previous performances, the performance of your friends, competitors, or our global stars,” says Ryan Mitchell, head of the product introduction team in Adidas’s interactive business unit.
The shoe, worn by two-time FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi in an exhibition game in September, went on sale in Latin America, Europe, and Asia on Nov. 15 and hits U.S. stores Dec. 1. It was created to maintain what Adidas estimates is a one-third share of a market worth as much as €5 billion ($6.8 billion) a year. “Adidas has a heritage in football [soccer] that Nike doesn’t have, and its innovations should bring more growth,” says Joerg Frey, an analyst at M.M. Warburg in Hamburg.
Mark Josefson, an analyst at Silvia Quandt Research, estimates Adidas’s soccer sales may rise as much as 15 percent next year to €1.6 billion. “We definitely believe we will extend our lead in 2012,” says Chief Executive Officer Herbert Hainer. Nike, whose Mercurial Vapor soccer shoe is worn by Ronaldo, is seeing “great results” with soccer products, says spokeswoman Mary Remuzzi. She declined to give the company’s market share in the sport.
Adidas’s new shoe is a version of the Adizero f50, introduced in 2010 as the lightest on the market, at 165 grams for a men’s size 8.5. It carries an 8-gram chip inserted beneath the sole that transmits data on maximum speed, distance covered, and number of sprints to a computer or mobile device. The product uses a version of the miCoach system Adidas launched in 2006 to monitor runners’ performance. But measuring movement in soccer isn’t as easy because players move in more than one direction. The new chip, known as a speed cell, “is able to measure speed and distance in all 360-degree movements,” Mitchell says.
A package that includes the shoes, a speed chip, and software to analyze the data on a smartphone or computer will sell for €245 ($338). “The product will be a bit expensive for young people,” says Thomas Effler, an analyst at WestLB in Frankfurt. “However, parents are more willing to pay extra for clothing and shoes than for expensive electronic items, so I expect less price sensitivity. There’s a big brand awareness among kids today, and parents often pay for it.”
The bottom line: Adidas, the No. 2 sporting brand, is betting on a $338 soccer shoe that transmits performance data to maintain its lead in the sport.