Did Puma snag the next NFL star?

(Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
(Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

With the first pick in the NFL Draft the Houston Texans selected Jadeveon Clowney, a 6-5,  266-pound All-American defensive end timed in the 40 at 4.43 seconds. Clowney was the consensus top prospect and the pick came as a surprise to no one who followed the draft. However, the opposite reaction occurred when it was announced in the days leading up to the draft that Clowney had inked an endorsement deal with Puma, spurning more popular apparel brands Nike, Adidas and Under Armour.

The signing offers Clowney a chance to create a unique brand by “being a part of something different,” as he told ESPN. Analysts have lauded the move for Puma, saying the affiliation with Clowney would enhance its place in the market, particularly in the U.S.

Puma is not known for football and has usually focused its brand on more international sports such as soccer, track and Formula 1. Puma was the smaller, younger brother of Adidas in sports, and in reality. Brothers Adi Dassler and Rudolf Dassler formed Adidas and Puma, respectively. Hard times befell Puma from 1986 to 1994 when the company went public and lost money year over year.

Since then, Jochen Ziet and his successors have rebranded Puma into a classic, fashionable and high-end brand. However, despite this rebranding, Puma still lags behind its competitors; it’s revenue in 2013 was $1.93 billion, paling in comparison to Adidas’ ($9.46 billion) and Nike (14.54 billion).

Puma does not produce football products such as cleats and jerseys, which makes this signing all the more surprising. The brand does however sponsor several football players, most notably Julian Edelman and Jamaal Charles. Clowney will likely join these players, as well as other athletes like Usian Bolt and Fernando Alonso, in Puma’s “The Nature of Performance” campaign, focused on its sneaker and performance apparel line.

It is difficult to say how effective Puma’s sponsorship of Clowney will be in football terms, but football fans are not the direct market Puma is targeting. Analyst Robert Greil at Merck Finck told Reuters he was shocked to see Puma’s weak performance in America because, “the U.S. is a key market for Puma and it begs the question as to where the weakness is coming from.”

Clowney may be the key to overcoming that. In his appearance on the ‘Tonight Show’ with Jimmy Fallon, Clowney, who was wearing a Puma jacket, admitted that he was “still broke,” and “living at home with my mom.” But that was several days ago; now Clowney, with his Texans’ contract and Puma sponsorship, can fulfill his dream of buying his mom a home and then some. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utSc_iN0z5U&w=853&h=480

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