The founding of adidas and PUMA is one of corporate legend.
It starts with the Dasslers, two German brothers who owned a shoe factory in a small town named Herzogenaurach. For 30 years the brothers worked together creating sportswear. They found massive success at the 1936 Olympics but the looming war saw the factory turn to weapons – and the brothers split.
One brother was drafted while the other stayed home. By the time the war ended, their relationship had become untenable. In 1948 they split to found their own companies. Rudolf Dassler founded PUMA, Adolf Dassler founded adidas. Their intense rivalry split the town of Herzogenaurach into two camps. Both Dassler brothers passed in the 1970s and they are even buried on opposite sides of town.
That same decade, a third company popped up to challenge the german companies stranglehold on sportswear. Nike was the flashy new company from America and made a major entrance to the industry in the same way adidas and PUMA did decades prior – by innovating on the track.
Now, all three companies are the biggest athletic apparel brands in the world. The Dassler family is no longer the driving force behind PUMA or adidas, but the rivalry is still strong. Instead of family squabbles, it’s corporate competition to sign the top athletes, teams and leagues to apparel deals. Over the past year, that rivalry has expanded to esports.
Adidas was the first of these companies to have an apparel deal with a major esports organisation. FC Copenhagen, an adidas football club, partnered with Nordisk Film to create North in 2018. Adidas came along, and even if it didn’t know it yet, the runners were on their marks.
In 2019, the starting gun sounded. adidas created a sneaker for Team Vitality and signed deals with Lyon and Team Heretics. Nike sponsored the LPL with unique kits for every team. PUMA grabbed Cloud9 and created apparel lines bolstered by a flashy commercial.
During 2020, despite a pandemic, the pace has only quickened. Nike signed a deal with T1 Sports & Entertainment and SK Gaming. PUMA fired back by grabbing T1’s longtime LCK rivals Gen.G. So, if you’re keeping track at home: adidas has the most organisations, PUMA has the two largest, and Nike has the only league. Even with all these moves, the race resembles the tension of runners halfway through a 1500M sizing each other up while judging the perfect time for the final kick.