Puma: The Story Behind the Football Brand
Miji Gonzales 2012-07-27 16:15:00
Since the Mizuno contract expired, fans have been speculating about the next official outfitter for the Philippine National Football Team. Many brands were expected to follow Mizuno, but it was Puma, a global brand known for its creativity and innovation, that stepped up to the plate and signed a three-year contract with the Azkals. Known as the sponsor of influential athletes and teams worldwide, Puma sat down with us and let the cat out of the bag. Let’s all welcome Puma to the Azkals family with puppy paws and a Cheshire grin on our faces.
History of Puma
In 1924, the Dassler brothers founded the world’s first athletic shoe company, Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (“Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory”) in Herzogenaurach, Germany. Like any other company, it experienced radical changes along the way. Ian Opeña, Product Head, narrates, “Puma was founded by Rudolf Dassler. He is the older brother of Adolf Dassler or Adi Dassler, and in 1948, they decided to part ways after World War II. In 1949, Adidas was established.” When Adi Dassler was about to register his brand, he discovered that there was another footwear company that mixed children’s shoes, so he wasn’t able to register until the following year.
“So, technically, Puma is older than Adidas by one year,” Opeña proudly states.
Their first shoe was the Puma Atom, a football boot, and it went on sale the same year the company was registered. In 1958, Puma released the Formstripe during the FIFA World Cup match between Sweden and Brazil, where it was considered an innovative piece of footwear for its added support and improved design. “The Formstripe now became the logo of the brand after 1958,” explains Opeña. A young Brazilian named Pelé, now a Puma ambassador, incidentally debuted Puma in 1958 and became one of the greatest football players of all time.
In 1968, Puma became the first shoe manufacturer to use Velcro, yet another milestone for a brand that would go on to set standards in sports and style for many years. That same year, Puma dominated the Olympics. Tommie Smith won the gold medal for the 200 meters, which became an iconic moment when he and his colleague John Carlos (who won bronze) wore black gloves and raised their fists against discrimination. Even at the Olympics, athletes had to take a stand against racism. Back then, black athletes were treated differently, but Rudolf Dassler didn’t and supported them all the way. In return, the athletes thanked Puma by placing their shoes on the platform for the whole world to see. No other brand–spokesperson relationship could be more ideal. In the same year, their trademark logo was released.
“From 1969 to 1990, there were a lot of heroes, or pillars, or legends of the game. We call them authentic legends. We have Pelé, Martina Navratilova, Diego Maradona, Walt Clyde Frazier, and Guillermo Vilas,” recaps Opeña. Any football devotee cannot forget the “Hand of God” goal of Maradona, who was wearing Puma boots during the 1982 FIFA World Cup. In 1991, the disc system was introduced, revolutionary for the time. In 1993, Jochen Zeitz saved the brand from bankruptcy by fusing several elements such as lifestyle and fashion with sports.
“In the early ‘90s, Adidas and Puma were in the red, almost [at] the point of bankruptcy. This was also the time of the height of Nike’s and as well Reebok’s. So the year later he started or we started the new sport: This is street soccer. It was, in fact, invented by Puma in 1994. Because in 1993, Adidas invented street basketball,” reveals Opeña. Street soccer held its own against street basketball because of football’s place as the world’s number one sport.
In 1996, Puma founded Cell technology. In 1998, they were the first brand that merged sports with fashion by collaborating with Jil Sander to come up with a collection of shirts and shoes. Another first in sports history! In 2000, Puma launched their Yoga line and official site and partnered with Porsche and Sparco to design racing footwear for motorsports. Talk about an innovative start to the millennium!
In 2001, Puma started venturing into motorsports, an area where Adidas and Nike were not present. They also collaborated with Japanese designer Yasuhiro Mihara. In 2003, they became the BMW Williams F1 racing team’s official outfitters. In 2004, they collaborated with world-renowned designer Philippe Starck and partnered with Ferrari and Renault. In 2008, they partnered with Red Bull for F1. That same year, they also partnered with Ducati, an ongoing collaboration, which includes their dealers in the Philippines. Usain Bolt also won medals and broke the 100 m and 200 m world records in 2008, and in 2009, he broke his own record, allowing Puma to rewrite sports history with another great athlete.
Puma also got involved in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa where the brand sponsored seven football federations including Italy, who won the World Cup in 2006 and reached the finals in the recent 2012 UEFA European Football Championship. Puma has, without a doubt, been a distinguished supporter of sports worldwide, especially football.
Always finding suitable partners that reflect the brand’s image, these smooth cats finally found themselves on canine turf as sponsors of the Azkals, the Philippine National Football Team, who happen to be the first Puma-sponsored team in the Asia-Pacific region. So what can happen when cats and dogs join forces?
Puma has cemented its name well in the football world alongside their domination of lifestyle fashion, motorsports, and running. After recently becoming sponsors of Slovakia’s national team, they became the Azkals’ a week before the June friendly. “I just found out that the previous kit supplier’s contract would end soon. So what I did, we presented to Boss Dan (Palami) and to the PFF (Philippine Football Federation) and then was awarded only last June,” explains Opeña. There were other brands that competed to support the Azkals, but Puma won. Now we’ll always see the Azkals grace upcoming matches and tournaments dressed in Puma and ready for battle. There’s even a third kit, tracksuit, and raincoat. They will even be providing medical bags, gym bags, travel gear, water bottles, and more.
When asked about the pressure from other brands, especially Mizuno, Opeña responds, “The pressure is quite tremendous. We want to do the same thing here in the Philippines. We want to copy what Italy did starting with the national team. We want this to be a long partnership.” Whatever the case may be, the Azkals are sure to have a promising long-term partnership with Puma, a brand employing a top-to-bottom strategy to promote football by starting with the Azkals and then expanding on a grassroots level.
Of course, we can’t leave the fans out of the equation. Fans are the cornerstone of the game, after all, and they have been eagerly awaiting the release of the official kit. Well, Opeña has the answer: “Our target is the Suzuki Cup.” As for Azkals merchandise, they plan to sell replica jerseys (light and dark at around P2,000) and fan gear (at around P1,000) in all 12 Puma stores across the country. If you can’t find a Puma store near you, have no fear: Puma will be tapping SM Department Store as an official distributor of these products. “Plus we also have different accounts and dealers in the provinces,” adds Opeña. The Philippine Football Federation (PFF) will be authorized distributors as well.
Setting the standard in innovation and creativity, Puma also plans to extend the product line. “I plan to introduce footwear SMU [special makeup]. It is exclusive for the country. I plan to release two or three styles that will be in Philippine colors and maybe put an Azkals logo on them, but that is still on the drawing board,” reveals Opeña. Product diversity is definitely something the fans can look forward to.
When it comes to events, the fans can also expect whole-day tournaments such as the Freedom Cup event at University of the Philippines, football clinics, media and product launches, mall tours, a tie-up with Azkals Sports Bar, and the Cats vs. Dogs fundraiser. Fans can already look forward to the team kit launch which will be held at Greenbelt in Makati sometime in September or October. It will be a week-long event where fans can check out the new Azkals uniform and uniforms of other teams—Italy, Chile, Ghana, Austria, South Africa, and many more. Prepare to be fascinated by the army of mannequins adorned with jerseys. The team kit launch is only a prelude to other exciting events, that’s for sure.
Oh yes, let’s not forget about the jersey contest. But before one dives in, nothing has been made official just yet. Puma’s Asia-Pacific office is still reviewing the mechanics and legality of the competition, after which it has to be approved by corporate headquarters in Germany. So for the ardent fans and aspiring designers, take your time perfecting those designs until we hear more from Puma.
Aside from brand ambassadors Pupil, Up Dharma Down, Jake Cuenca, and Erie Neeman, among others, three of our Azkals have joined the list: Ian Araneta, Misagh Bahdoran, and Carlie Martínez de Murga. Yes, that explains those discreet Puma tweets. Three or four more Azkals are slated to join them soon. What’s interesting is that the boots they will be sporting on the pitch are specifically tailored to suit their skills: Speed, the lightweight line; Power, the technology-infused line; and King, the traditional line. Puma positioned the players according to these three product divisions. Expect to see Araneta with the Puma evoSPEED, their top-of-the-line boot; Bahadoran with the Puma King (“He is interested in the classic attacking style and focused on passing, and he wanted conical studs”); and De Murga with the Puma Power (“He is more on the defense side”).
“Love = Football” is Puma’s major campaign, a global campaign, and they’re going to adopt that in the Philippines through the Azkals. “Because you can only love the sport if you have a campaign attached to it. You can only increase the support to football by really loving it. If ‘di mo mahal, iiwan mo lang,” clarifies Opeña. If you have a love letter to Philippine football, send them in. Oh wait, I think I just did that. Jokes aside, Puma’s campaign is sure to spread the love that the fans have for football and the Azkals. Who says cats and dogs can’t make a great team? Now that the cat is out of the bag, help us spread that football love!