In a breaking story on Sunday, January 24,2016, the BBC reported that adidas, the long time apparel and footwear sponsor of the IAAF, will be terminating their sponsorship agreement four years early. The full story, by Mark Daly, can be read here: http://www.bbc.com/sport/athletics/35385415.
adidas is the brand that invented sports marketing, under the late Horst Dassler. Other brands have followed, and one brand has surpassed, but no one has the tradition or history. adidas earned their stature in the sport food chain one muddy soccer pitch, one rainy track facility, one wrestling match at a time.
They have been a long time and iconic sponsor of athletics. However, their frustrations with the IAAF is nothing new to keen observers.
As is typical in many sponsor relationships, there are times when the federation and sponsor do not see eye to eye. In times of frustration, brands want to terminate and federations look to other sponsors. Many time, the answer does not come with a new sponsor. The answer may lie in the care and treatment of sponsors.
The first thing for Lord Coe to do, in my opinion, is not to go to the lawyers. The first thing for Lord Coe to to use his charm, his talent, his grace, all of the things that supporters note are Mr. Coe's strengths, and head for the adidas HQ. Remember, this is a guy who worked closely with adidas in London 2012 and as the long time sponsor of the BOA.
This has also been the case with Dentsu. The renowned global sports marketing and ad agency is the AOR for the IAAF and represents much of their sport properties.
adidas, per the BBC report, was obviously concerned over the WADA reports, both parts 1 and part 2.
While neither the IAAF nor adidas will confirm the BBC story, it makes sense on several levels. While Dentsu sells the sponsorships and of course IAAF can challenge adidas breaking the contract, adidas should have some justification with an devaluation in their sponsorship caused by recent WADA reports and French investigations of extortion by the Diack family and cronies.
Truth is, it is most unfortunate. adidas has provided much support for the sport, and their departure from the IAAF could suggest several routes of response: adidas reduces involvement in sport, adidas gets involved in sport in a more disruptive manner, appealing to their prime demographic target, Millenials, or adidas keeps status quo.
adidas has many issues to consider. With the best product it has had in decades, adidas BOOST is resonating around the world. Except in the US. adidas BOOST with Kanye West is selling big time, but adidas running in the US is much smaller that it could be or should be if adidas communicated with the running community.
For the sport to be healthy, we need the support of all of the running shoe brands. When a situation such as adidas pulling out happens, all of the social media experts note, "well, we know who is going into IAAF now." Really?
Other brands have concerns about the sport as well. Other brands have seen the positives and negatives of being a global sport sponsor. The Sponsorship in itself is not going to help a brand make money. It is the invovement in the community.
adidas remained involved in the sport because, in their global interest, and their love of the sport, it made sense. adidas is such an iconic brand, and will, I hope remain so, in our sport. Their possible termination of their IAAF contract is most unfortunate.
But, in truth, this is where real diplomacy begins. If Dentsu, IAAF want to show that there is really a new day, they should, I hope, reach out to adidas to see if there can be some sort of rapprochment. And as we are told, Lord Coe has some skills in that sector.
Even if rapprochment is not possible at this time, then, the IAAF and our friends at Dentsu need to do the next best thing: end the contract with respect on both sides.
Lawsuits spend lots of needless money and are the sources of more bad publicity.
That is not good on either side.