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European soccer final adds new chapter to Adidas-Puma rivalry

Players wearing Puma and an Adidas soccer shoes pose before a friendly soccer match between German sports goods firm Puma and German sportin
Players wearing Puma and an Adidas soccer shoes pose before a friendly soccer match between German sports goods firm Puma and German sportin

By Victoria Bryan and Keith Weir

FRANKFURT/LONDON (Reuters) - German sportswear makers Adidas and Puma will renew their own decades-old rivalry when Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund meet in the Champions League Final at Wembley on Saturday.

Adidas is the long-standing kit supplier to Bayern and owns a stake of around nine percent in the Bavarian club, while Puma became the sportswear partner of Dortmund a year ago.

The German companies were set up after a falling out by the Dassler brothers in the Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach in the late 1940s and remain among the best known global sports brands.

However, while Adidas and U.S. rival Nike dominate a soccer market estimated to be worth up to 4.5 billion euros ($5.8 billion), Puma is playing catch-up after years of focusing more on fashion than performance sportswear. Its decision to partner with Dortmund yielded an instant return when the club made it to the Champions League final - the biggest prize in European club soccer and expected to attract a global television audience of over 150 million.

"They have overachieved our expectations," Puma Chief Commercial Officer Stefano Caroti told Reuters.

"The exposure that we are having, especially this weekend, will make the club not just a local asset but it will become a truly global player," he added in a telephone interview.

Retailers in Japan, Malaysia and Britain have been signing up to buy the new Dortmund kit which will be launched next month, Caroti said, adding that the publicity the team has generated created a "halo effect" that would boost sales by bringing more customers into stores.

Dortmund's success has provided a rare bright spot for Puma, which warned last week of shortfalls in sales and profit. Adidas by contrast reported its highest ever gross profit margin earlier this month.

A renewed focus on soccer has seen Puma pull out of sailing and European rugby, saving money in order to plough it into sponsorship deals that will bring it more business.

Caroti said the success of Dortmund and individual deals Puma has done with top players including Cesc Fabregas of Barcelona and Radamel Falcao of Atletico Madrid had helped to give its "leaping cat" brand renewed credibility in soccer.

Soccer currently makes up more than 10 percent of total sales and is growing, he said. Puma has overall annual revenues of around 3.3 billion euros compared with 14.9 billion for Adidas.

Puma's long-term objective is to build team sports into a billion euro business, Caroti said, adding soccer would be the mainstay of this division.

According to reports in English media, Puma are set to agree a deal worth more than 30 million pounds ($45.2 million) a year to provide the kit for English Premier League club Arsenal, replacing Nike.

Caroti declined to comment on those reports but said: "We are obviously searching for other top tier teams that could give us that global visibility."

(additional reporting by Joern Poltz in Munich; Editing by Sophie Walker)

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