BEAVERTON At first glance, things did not go as planned for Nike in the Beijing Olympics. Michael Phelps and his fellow swimmers powered to new records wearing Speedos instead of Nike swim suits, Jamaican upstarts burned up the track wearing Puma, and the super-hyped Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang, the charismatic centerpiece of the Chinese version of Nike’s Just Do It campaign, collapsed in agony before the start of the biggest race of his life.
Apparently, none of that mattered — at least not to Chinese consumers. Nike’s sales in China shot up 53% amid the Olympic hoopla during the fiscal quarter that ended Sept. 30. More importantly, future orders for Nike products in China also increased by 50% as compared to 10% worldwide. Charlie Denson, Nike brand president, told investors the Beijing Olympiad was “our most successful single event ever, on multiple fronts.” CEO Mark Parker was equally bullish about Nike’s prospects in China well beyond the Olympics, as well as in similarly emerging markets in Brazil, India, Turkey and Russia.
More than half of Nike’s revenues come from sales outside of the United States, and China is the company’s fastest-growing and most important foreign market, worth more than $1 billion per year. Nike executives cite success in China as a key element to Nike’s push to grow to $23 billion in sales by 2011.
That may explain the whopping $181 million the company spent on advertising and marketing for the quarter. The spending spree cut into quarterly profits, but Nike’s approach to China always has been closer to a marathon than a sprint. Nike was one of the first multinationals to open factories in China in the early ’80s, and it has been promoting sports and sponsoring athletes in China for more than two decades, beginning with its backing of the Chinese national basketball team in 1980.
That long-term investment is looking smarter than ever these days, as consumer spending in the United States fizzles and China continues its economic ascent.
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