Two of the recognizable brands in sports footwear for over half a century, Adidas and Puma emerged from rivalry – two estranged brothers that is. Both brands have been worn by legendary soccer players, Muhammad Ali, hip hop all stars like the Beastie Boys and other famous musicians worldwide. But, it all went down in Herzogenaurach, Germany in the early 1920’s, where brothers Adolph and Rudolph Dassler, started a sports footwear brand. At the time, footwear made specifically for athletes was far and few between.
Dassler Brothers Sports Shoe Copmany first success came when German athletes wore their shoes in the 1928 and 1932 Olympics. It wasn’t until 1936 that their success went through the roof. Although the brothers joined the Nazi party when Hitler seized power in 1933, it didn’t stop them landing legendary African-American track star Jesse Owens to wear their shoes as he competed. Owens won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics that year. Owens’ victory gave the shoes international exposure, and sales of the Dasslers’ product exploded.
Along with the extreme highs of success came frequent feuds between the brothers. Everything from company direction, politics, finances to each other’s wives got between them. On awful terms, they parted ways, Rudolph moved across the river and soon founded Puma. The famous jumping cat Puma logo still remains today. Adolph (Adi) remained in the original space and later changed the company name to Adidas (his nickname combined with the first two letters of his last name.
The real question, however, is how did Adidas quickly become a much larger company? A critical failure for Puma was that Rudolf had an argument with the coach of the German soccer team, and that allowed Adidas an opening before the 1954 World Cup. Against all odds West Germany won against Hungary that year. Adi Dassler became synonymous with Adidas thanks to his photos in all the newspapers. The iconic triple stripe on the athlete’s boots was soon sought after by countries around the globe. Adidas was a new sports footwear brand that everyone wanted to sell. While Puma boots were also of the highest quality, it would take many years to build up its international business.
Today, only one member of the family remains – Frank Dassler, the grandson of Rudolf Dassler. At one point he was head of Puma USA, and he’s now been appointed head of legal affairs at Adidas. Crossing the river, so to speak, didn’t come easy, but it shows that business today can be much more rational. Currently, Adidas is the second largest sports apparel company in the world. Puma has been acquired by the French conglomerate PPR, which owns Gucci.
One of the greatest lessons to be learned of the Adidas vs Puma rivalry is that a great product will haul a company through any storm. That’s the case with both companies. Many would also believe that the fierce family competition drove each business to success. The brother’s feud, however, never ended. They died within four years of each other and were literally buried at opposite ends of the cemetery.