Adidas vs Puma: Key Battles (Part 2)

The continued saga between the German companies Adidas and Puma.

The two brothers Adolf ‘Adi’ Dassler and Rudolf ‘Rudi’ Dassler started business together with Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory) in the 1920s. From a modest beginning in the city of Herzogenaurach, the business flourished for years under their joint leadership .

However, a series of interesting turnarounds tainted the brothers’ relationship forever and they went their separate ways. Adolf Dassler founded Adidas and Rudolf Dassler founded Puma. The two brothers became fearsome business rivals and it was not until 2009, long after the death of the two siblings, that the two companies ended their 60-year-old feud.

In this series of Adidas vs Puma, the first episode focused on the beginning of the brothers’ business until their split. In this second episode we dig deep into two key events of the rivalry- the 1954 World Cup and “The Pele Pact”.

From Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik to Adidas and Puma:

At the time of the split, the brothers let their employees pick the company they wanted to work for. As Adolf was the master technician, most of the craftsmen choose Adi’s side while the salesmen opted to work for Rudolf. The family was divided too, their sister Marie supported Adolf and his wife Kathe. Marie could not forgive Rudolf for refusing to employ her two sons at the time of the Second World War. At that time, Rudolf cited the avoidance of any more family problem in the company as the reason for not employing Marie’s two sons, who later went to the war and never returned. Their mother, widowed Paulina lived with Rudolf and his wife Friedl until her death.

Adi, Rudi and their shoes
Adi, Rudi and their shoes

After many months of disputes regarding asset distribution, the separation was finalized in April 1948. Subsequently Adolf Dassler filed registration for a company under the name “Addas”, but his request was turned down as there was a German children’s shoe company with a similar name, so he later filed the company with the name “Adidas”, a combination made from his name.

Rudolf, on the other hand, opted to choose the same strategy, thus registering his company as ‘Ruda”. However, he later changed the name to “Puma” which sounded more athletic.

The clash of the brothers divided the entire city of Herzogenaurach, with the Aurach River separating the followers from one side of the town to another. It soon became the norm in the town for people to always look down to see which brand of footwear being worn before deciding to engage in conversation, or not.

1954 World Cup:

1954 World Cup turned out to be a key event in both German football history and to the companies. The tournament held in neighboring Switzerland was unique is many ways. Firstly, it was the first World Cup to be televised; secondly, Germany would make a return to the World Cup after the ban on Germany imposed after the Second World War ended and finally this World Cup would give birth to the one of the biggest football nations, Germany.

It is also important to understand that, a few years after the Second World War, Adidas and Puma were mostly competing with each other and other German Shoe Manufacturers. Post war, Germany was banned from international sports and in many countries it was believed to be unpatriotic to buy German products. The 1954 World Cup set the perfect stage for Germany to make a comeback in international sports.

The Germany Football team was managed by Sepp Herberger, who previously worked with the Dassler brothers when they were together. In fact, the relationship was initiated by Rudolf Dassler and at that time, Puma football boots were ahead of other competing football boots. However, a rift between Rudolf and Sepp proved to be costly for Puma. The reason for the falling out remains unclear; some say they argued on the payments if Puma was worn by the German Players. Puma’s loss was Adidas’ gain.

The German national team won the World Cup for the first time in 1954 while sporting sleek Adidas boots. Germany were two goals down within 10 minutes in the final against Hungary led by legendary Ferenc Puskas. Then came back to win 3-2.  That famous final was the event in which the “screw in studs” technology helped Germany on the rain-soaked pitch to overcome the mighty, beloved Hungarian team in the final popularly known as “The Miracle of Bern”.

The Miracle of Bern
The Miracle of Bern

The “screw in studs” technology in boots (entirely different from the then-conventional leather studs), which helped the German players’ composure on the sodden pitch was credited to Adidas. However, Puma claimed to have actually invented this technology. which helped Hannover to the German Championship earlier that year.

The World Cup was a bigger event and Adidas was the winner. letting the world know its football credentials. Adolf Dassler and Adidas became ambassadors of German Football; Adolf had a seat reserved in the National Team’s bus, right next to the team manager Herberger. Even today, Adidas remain the brand associated with German national team.

“The Pele Pact”

In the 1970s, Rudolf Dassler’s son Armin made some key decisions and truly launched Puma as a global company. Adidas and Puma made a pact that involved Pele, the greatest and most famous footballer of that era.

Unlike the present day situation, athlete endorsements were of a much bigger risk at that time. The marketing channels were numbered and the costs were huge. Moreover, a head to head clash to sign Pele may prove to be financially too risky if two companies tried to outbid each other. The “Pele Pact” was made between Adidas and Puma in which both companies agreed not to sign a deal with Pele.

If Adidas won the battle in 1954 World Cup, it was Puma who got the most from the “Pele Pact” by not complying with it. The pact was made before the 1970 World Cup. Puma spent time trying to sign all the Brazilian Football team member without Pele, to the point that Pele was surprised to see Puma representative Hans Henningsen spending time with almost every teammate but him.

However, Henningsen made a bold decision and worked out a deal with Pele without Puma’s approval. Hennningson brought the deal to Armin Dassler, now the main figure in Puma, and convinced him that this deal was too good to let go.

The deal offered Pele USD 25,000 for the 1970 World Cup and USD 100,000 for the next four years. Part of the deal involved Pele intentionally asking for time before the kick off in the final to tie his Puma boots so that all the cameras would focus on Pele’s boots in the showcase event of the World Cup 1970. Pele complied with the deal and asked the referee for a few second to tie his boots right before the kick off. The rest is history; Pele was sensational in the final as Brazil beat Italy 4-1 to win the World Cup for the third time. The result was scintillating as Puma benefited from Pele’s undisputed status and sales begun to soar upwards once again. Puma finally made its mark at a World Cup in true style.

Conclusion: The Brothers Pass Away but the Rivalry Continues

Adolf Dassler and Rudolf Dassler died four years apart in the 1970s; they were buried in opposite corners of Herzogenaurach cemetery, as far apart as possible. They did not reconcile before Rudolf Dassler’s death in 1974. They had carried their feud to the end of their lives, and the feud between the companies continued.

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Tousif is a football writer based in Bangladesh and is a massive fan of Germany National Football Team.

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