Adidas connects with basketball fans through grassroots league

With Olympics just weeks ago, sports participation is soaring

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SHANGHAI--Adidas has turned to a grassroots basketball league in China, giving youth a chance to take part in the sport at a time when interest has never been higher.

The 2008 Olympic Games kick off on Aug. 8, giving Adidas and other official sponsors just a few more weeks to give their brands a boost through a connection with the games.

The German sportswear company started recruiting players in April 2008 for the tournament. Games will be played on school and public courts in Beijing, Shenyang, Shanghai, Wuhan, Guangzhou and Chengdu.

The first five-on-five games between 1,200 teams and 7,000 players began late last month and will continue until the end of June. The national finals will take place in July in Shanghai, where finalists will be trained by Gilbert Arenas, until recently a guard with the Washington Wizards. The champions will attend the NBA China Games in Beijing in October.

The Summer League was designed to help Adidas “build up brand leadership in the youth basketball market,” said Jochen Haase, the company’s communications director for China in Shanghai. The effort also promotes Adidas’ partnership with the National Basketball Association.

Adidas set up NBA-branded game stations at each stop on the tournament promoting players like Dwight Howard, center for the Orlando Magic NBA team, and featuring interactive games such as the Superman Dunk. They also include a “Mix & Match” section, where stylists tell new fans how to dress for the basketball lifestyle in Adidas and NBA apparel and footwear.

Interest in athletics, including basketball, one of the most popular sports in China, is helping drive a domestic sports industry, said Matthew Brosenne, international business director of CSM Media Research in Beijing.

“There is a high level of activity and participation,” he said, referring to a survey conducted in March with 1,000 people across ten cities, in which 55% of respondents said they plan to participate actively in the games.

“The Olympics are a trigger for changing people’s behavior in terms of sports participation and interest. There is greater interest in basketball and football, for sure, but we’re seeing greater interest in other sports as well, such as track-and-field, namely running, and swimming. People have also regenerated interest in [two traditional Chinese sports] table tennis and badminton.”

The tournament is an extension of a grassroots streetball campaign started by Adidas in 1997. Last year, the company changed the name to the Adidas Summer League and altered the format from the traditional three players on each side on a half court to the current five-on-five on a full court.

The change “helped Chinese basketball kids to understand the importance of teamwork and brotherhood in basketball,” said Mr. Haase. It was also in line with  Adidas basketball campaigns “It Takes Five” and “Basketball is a Brotherhood.” 
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