Monday, July 7, 2008 Updated: August 5, 4:28 PM ET
REPORTING FROM ... THE BEIJING BUREAU
How do you say "Agent Zero" in Mandarin?
In the long-running Sneaker Wars between Nike and adidas, the latter just landed one mighty volley into a market of 1.3 billion. Last Friday at midnight, in Beijing, adidas opened its largest Brand Center worldwide, a four-story building with 100 staff members, several "interactive zones" and a rooftop basketball court. Neither the location nor the timing was a coincidence: China will soon become adidas's largest international market (it already is Nike's), and after ponying up $80-100 million, according to the Wall Street Journal, to become an official Olympic sponsor, the company would like to do everything it can to increase its exposure in advance of the Games.
"It's a very exciting moment for all of us here at adidas, and for me especially because I can say a dream comes true," said company president Erich Stamminger at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 4. Joining him at the event were high-ranking adidas executives and Gilbert Arenas, fresh off signing a six-year, $111 million contract.
"Simply awesome," Arenas said.
A four-story temple of all things adidas.
There was noticeable disappointment among the gathering when Arenas left at about 6 o'clock, ushered down a red carpet laid outside on wet pavement (an evening rainstorm blew through Beijing, delaying the ribbon-cutting ceremony) and through a small crowd of locals. But those still in the building quickly cheered up when the fashion show began on the half-hour, attended by, among others, Taiwanese starlet Kwai Lun-Mei.
What does this all mean for adidas? For one, the company finally has its flagship store in Asia, and the first store with all its divisions under one roof. More importantly, it's a step towards capturing crucial territory in a never-ending battle: the company expects to overtake Nike in the Chinese market by the end of the year.
Of course, Nike, which has had a flagship store in Beijing since last August and sponsors 22 of China's 28 sports federations, is hardly shaken. "We don't comment on competitors, but what I can say is Nike is the strongest and most relevant brand in China," says Nike spokesman Derek Kent.
True enough … for now. But the battle for the Eastern front is getting real interesting.