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How Adidas stole Nike's NFL thunder in Week 1

The NFL season opened on Thursday with a re-match of Super Bowl 50 between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers, and 39 of the game’s 44 starting players were Nike-sponsored athletes.

But it was Adidas that won the day.

Early in the game, Adidas aired its newest commercial about “creators,” which has been its pro-sports marketing theme for over a year now. The ad had debuted online two days earlier, but the NFL opener was its coming out party, and the reception was loud, and positive.

The advertisement squeezed in a parade of Adidas-sponsored athletes across different sports: NFL linebacker Von Miller of the Denver Broncos; soccer star Paul Pogba of Manchester United; WNBA rookie Moriah Jefferson of the San Antonio Stars; slugger Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs (standing with a billy goat, a winking reference to the Cubs curse); NBA star James Harden of the Houston Rockets; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers; and NBA rookies Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics; Brandon Ingram of the LA Lakers; and Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets.

The spot served as a reminder that Adidas has made major endorsement moves recently. It signed Rodgers and Harden one year ago, and Pogba and Bryant this past March. It signed a slew of NBA draft picks, including the three shown in the ad, this summer. Miller has been with Adidas since 2011 when he joined the NFL. (Interestingly, none of its golfers made the spot, though Dustin Johnson and Jason Day both had a great year.)

And the ad took direct aim at Under Armour by opening with a spoof of Under Armour’s “Rule Yourself” campaign, which shows endless clones of its stars Jordan Spieth, Tom Brady, Steph Curry and Misty Copeland to bring home the theme of rigorous training. “Yeah, yeah, hard work and dedication,” the Adidas ad narrates. “Look at this cookie-cutter, copy-and-paste, blah. Where is something new, something different?”

This sure looks like it’s mocking Under Armour. (Image: adidas)

Twitter erupted with buzz over the ad. Sneakerbox, a sports digital agency, said it was “One of the best Adidas ads we’ve seen in last ten years. Clapping back at you know who.” Footwear blogs went nuts. (My own phone blew up with texts from friends taking note of the ad.)

And the new ad wasn’t the only engine that boosted Adidas in NFL Week 1. Kanye West, whom Adidas signed to an unusual, expansive long-term contract this year, debuted his Yeezy Season 4 line last week, and before the season opener Miller tweeted out a photo of special Yeezy cleats, thanking both West and Adidas. (Miller wore the cleats in warmups, but not in the game.) The tweet caught fire. The sneaker site Kicks On Fire wrote that, “Yeezy cleats jumped over the Jordan cleats.”

The next day, Houston Texans star DeAndre Hopkins, also sponsored by Adidas (who also stars in the new DraftKings ad campaign), followed suit and tweeted the cleats, thanking West and Adidas.

Von Miller has in fact been a cornerstone of Adidas’s new strategy in American football. At the new Foot Locker flagship store in Manhattan, where Adidas has its own store-within-a-store “concept shop,” a giant poster of Miller adorns one wall. (And Miller is on a marketing streak of his own; he is the new face of Old Spice’s NFL campaign, and has deals with Microsoft, EA Sports, Best Buy and others.)

Adidas lost its place this year as the official apparel sponsor of the NBA; come next season, it’ll be Nike on the jerseys. And Adidas lost the University of Michigan this year after the school signed a monster new deal with Nike.

But the German-based company, which will get a new CEO (outsider Kasper Rorsted) in March 2017, isn’t lying down in US sports marketing. It is in a far better position in the US than it was one year ago.

25 of the 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL this year are sponsored by Nike. But that won’t stop Adidas from stealing some share of mind.

Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite. 

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