Puma not worried by Bolt retirement, believes he will be as valuable off track

Bolt celebrates after winning the men's 200m during day one of the Muller Anniversary Games on July 22, 2016 in London, England. Photograph:( Getty )

Reuters Berlin, Germany Jul 27, 2016, 12.10 PM (IST)
German sportswear firm Puma is not worried about the possible imminent retirement of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, the highest profile athlete it sponsors, believing Bolt could be just as valuable off the track.

"Usain is part of the Puma family," chief executive Bjorn Gulden told reporters today. "If he decides not to run, we will probably work even closer with him," he said, adding Bolt would have more time for product development and could even take on a commercial role at Puma.

Gulden made the comments after Puma reported a stronger-than-expected rise in second quarter sales, helped by the European soccer championships as well as popular women's products endorsed by singer Rihanna and celebrity Kylie Jenner.

Puma reported a quarterly net profit of 1.6 million Euros ($1.8 million), compared with a loss of 3.3 million a year ago. Sales rose 7 per cent to 827 million Euros, beating analysts' average forecast of 819 million. Bigger rival Adidas is expected to report even stronger growth for the quarter on August 4, with a Thomson Reuters Smart Estimate suggesting a 13 per cent rise in sales.

Puma shares pared earlier gains to trade up 0.3 per cent by 08:50 GMT, while owner Kering rose 2.4 per cent. Adidas, which has been hitting a series of record highs in anticipation of bumper results, was up 1.6 per cent.

Gulden said it was not clear whether the six-time Olympic sprint champion, who has been sponsored by Puma since he was 15 years old, would keep running after the upcoming Rio Olympics, saying Bolt might need time off to think about it.

Gulden said the Jamaican was already helping Puma hunt for a successor, adding the company has a strong scouting operating in the Caribbean, "We have to admit there won't be a second Usain but there will be something else," he said.

While Bolt is Puma's highest profile athlete and the Olympics a major platform for the brand, Gulden said it was hard to measure a direct impact on sales as fans do not buy replica team shirts in the same way they do for sports like soccer.

Quarterly sales grew fastest in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, up a currency-adjusted 23.5 per cent, boosted by Puma's sponsorship of five national soccer teams at Euro 2016, including Italy, plus players like top scorer Antoine Griezmann of France and Portugal goal keeper Rui Patricio.

While sales of replica team shirts started already last November, Gulden said he was optimistic of a boost to soccer shoe sales when youngsters fired up by Euro 2016 start back at school.

Gulden said Puma's partnerships with Rihanna and Jenner were helping it win more space at key retailers, which are all putting more focus on the women's business because it is growing faster than the men's.

The firm confirmed it expects sales to grow by a high single-digit percentage this year, with gross profit margin remaining flat from last year's 45.5 per cent and operating earnings between 115 million and 125 million Euros.