Will Puma Finally Break Through in Running?

Earlier this 12 months, LetsRun released an short article listing qualified runners and other track and area athletes who had switched sponsors heading into 2021. In a shocking twist, the organization that appeared to be building waves (or, at the very least, remarkable ripples) was not an set up behemoth like Nike or Adidas, but Puma—a brand name whose presence on the operating scene has at periods felt analogous to the behavior of its elusive feline namesake. In leisure road races, Puma sightings are commonly couple and far between. According to sneaker retail expert and vice president of the NPD research team Matt Powell, Puma had a less than 1 per cent share in the U.S. operating shoe market place in 2020.

Molly Seidel, who concluded second in previous year’s Olympic Trials marathon in her debut at the distance, is amongst the freshly minted Puma athletes. “When the chance to start with introduced by itself in the latter 50 percent of 2020, I was like, ‘Really? Puma?’” Seidel advised me. She hadn’t run in the brand name in advance of, but was favorably impressed immediately after initially having matters into her possess hands. “I didn’t genuinely know just about anything about their shoes. I purchased my to start with pair of Pumas, a pair of Speed 500s, on Amazon, just to try them out. I was like: ‘Oh, this could work,’” Seidel said. After Puma gave her 1 of their new prototypes to exam, Seidel says that she turned persuaded that the company’s item “could contend with the most effective of what is out there.”

Puma also lately signed Olympic steeplechaser Aisha Praught-Leer, as very well as several giants of the pole vault scene, which include Olympic medalists Sandi Morris of the U.S. and the elastic Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie. Modern NCAA all-Us residents Taylor Warner, Steven Fahy, and Fiona O’Keeffe will be signing up for a Puma-sponsored elite distance staff dependent out of North Carolina, as Pascal Rolling, Puma’s head of operating sports advertising and marketing, lately advised Larry Eder of RunBlogRun in an job interview. The move recalls previous year’s announcement from the Swiss operating shoe brand name On that it was launching a Boulder-dependent pro staff. 

Unlike On, on the other hand, which was started in Zurich in 2010, Puma is not a young organization making an attempt to make a name for by itself, but a 70-12 months-aged legacy brand name. Puma has commonly been more cautious about leveraging its pedigree for advertising and marketing reasons in contrast with, say, Nike, which lionizes its late co-founder Bill Bowerman as the waffle-iron wielding visionary. While Nike was started in 1964, Puma had its genesis many years previously. 

Any self-respecting sneakerhead by now knows the story: in the early 1920s, Rudolf and Adolf Dassler started the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory in the Bavarian city of Herzogenaurach. Their products and solutions bundled athletic footwear like soccer cleats and track spikes at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the good American sprinter and extended-jumper Jesse Owens gained 4 gold medals wearing Dassler-made shoes. After Planet War II, a fraternal rift brought on the Dasslers to part techniques. Rudulf started Puma in 1948, and Adolf started Adidas the next 12 months. Even though the Dasslers were being also pioneers in the sneaker match, the truth that they have not been given the full Bowerman procedure by their respective manufacturers could have some thing to do with the truth that both gentlemen were being at 1 place customers of the Nazi social gathering. Like significantly of German industry throughout the forties, the Dassler factory was applied to manufacture weapons for the war hard work. (A biographical account from the Adi & Käthe Dassler Memorial Foundation maintains that the brothers were being pressured to be part of the Nazi social gathering if they desired to stay in business enterprise. Neither brother was convicted of crimes immediately after the war.) 

Puma advanced into 1 the most significant athletic attire manufacturers in the earth, even as it is been overshadowed by its cross-city rival. The organization is also deeply ensconced in track and area lore. At the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Ethiopian Abebe Bikila was wearing Pumas when he gained the marathon, defending his victory from the ’60 Games in Rome where he famously competed barefoot. U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raced in Pumas when they gained gold and bronze, respectively, in the two hundred-meters at the 1968 Games in Mexico City, environment the phase for their legendary medal stand protest. In the early nineties, right about the time Reebok released its notorious Pumps, Puma introduced its possess odd new lacing thought, the Puma Disc, which gained a sterling endorsement at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona when Puma-sponsored athletes Linford Christie (100-meters) and Dieter Baumann (five,000-meters) both gained gold in their respective functions. (In the late nineties both gentlemen would be suspended for doping violations. Considerably less sterling.)

And then there is Usain Bolt. Bolt, who was sponsored by Puma for his total occupation, was not just the world’s preeminent sprinter from the mid-aughts right up until his retirement in 2017, but an athlete whose outsized persona and expertise transcended the insular earth of qualified track and area. But not even Bolt, endowed as he was with in the vicinity of supernatural capacity, could change the truth that the Olympic highlight only shines as soon as each and every 4 many years, which could describe why it often felt like Puma was perpetually skulking about the shadows of the world operating scene—despite its deep operating roots and obtaining the sport’s biggest celebrity touting its wares. Granted, Bolt made his magic in sprint spikes—not accurately a mass market place item—but, at the very least from this peanut gallery vantage place, it appeared like Puma could have been building a bigger splash in the broader operating area.

Then yet again, a superior-wattage endorsement can only go so far if you really don’t have the products to back it up. In 2019, Aaron Dodson wrote a story for The Undefeated called “The Forgotten Historical past of Puma Basketball.” The short article chronicles the brand’s background of sponsoring NBA players, which include their unwell-fated collaboration with aerial maestro Vince Carter, who signed a ten-12 months, $50 million deal with Puma in 1998, only to part techniques with the organization and signal with Nike in mid-2000. In the piece, Puma brand name director Adam Petrick admits that part of the problem was that “the item by itself was not that excellent.” As Petrick advised Dodson: “If you seem back at Puma’s arc in the previous thirty, 40 many years, that’s where the worries came for us. We were being genuinely solid in advertising and marketing but misplaced our way from a item standpoint.”

On the distance operating front, the worth of being on stable floor “from a item standpoint” couldn’t be bigger than throughout our tortured super shoe period. Although no rational human being would claim that Bolt wouldn’t have dominated sprinting if he had been a Nike or Adidas athlete, the increasingly irrefutable url between innovations in shoe tech and enhanced athletic general performance is forcing elite runners to be even more careful when examining shoe sponsorship alternatives.  

“So significantly of distance operating right now is about obtaining a genuinely excellent, carbon-plated super shoe to run in,” Seidel says, in a candid recognition of a new actuality that not each and every elite runner has been keen to admit. Seidel advised me that she ran exercise sessions in Puma’s new racing shoe—the Deviate Elite, which is slated to go on sale in early March—before building the commitment. The truth that she located the results encouraging enough to signal a contract bodes very well for the brand name, though it continues to be to be viewed how Puma’s most up-to-date foray into operating will participate in out. They’ve been listed here in advance of. 

Guide Image: Justin Britton