“The family feud spread to the entire workforce,” said Joerg Dassler, who only met his grand-uncle Adolf once, in the stands during an athletics championship. The two never spoke.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the “Pumeraner” and the “Adidassler”, as the respective workforces called themselves, “didn’t even sit next to each other in bars,” recalled Georg Hetzler.
“When I started at Adidas 30 years ago, we were forbidden from even mentioning the name Puma. We always had to speak of ‘the competitor on the other side of the Aurach,” Adidas chief executive Herber Hainer told AFP.
“There were restaurants and bars only frequented by Puma employees and others only by Adidas employees. But that’s over now,” he insisted.
On Herzogenaurach’s market place, the 100-year-old bakery, Roemmelt, is staying neutral.
“My parents always had a pair of shoes of each brand in their car, which they would put on,” depending on which firm they were delivering to, smiled Klaus Roemmelt, 53.
A Dassler has not been in charge of either group since the early 1990s.
Adidas and Puma are both now listed on the stock exchange and attract employees from all over the world who are less inclined to carry on the feud.
In face of the battle with the world’s number one sportshoe maker, Nike, the family squabbles are unimportant anyway. Nike, with annual sales of $30.6 billion (26.9 billion euros), dwarfs Adidas with 16.9 billion euros ($19 billion) and Puma with just three billion euros ($2.64).
– A false peace? –
Officially, the two brothers buried the hatchet in 2009 at a football match between teams made up of Adidas and Puma workers mixed together.
Bjorn Gulden, the Norwegian head of Puma, who has also worked at Adidas, insisted the rivalry has reached a “healthy” balance.
But tensions remain. Adidas recently delayed a Puma building application for an extension of its headquarters at the town authorities.
Moreover, both accuse the other of plagiarism.
Their two new sportshoe models — Adidas’ “Boost” and Puma’s “NRGY” — look remarkably similar with their soles made of expanded thermoplastic polyurethane (eTPU), a shock-absorbing granulated component. Puma began developing the technology with chemical giant BASF. But BASF pulled out of the partnership to work with Adidas instead.
Puma insists it did everything to reach an amicable agreement. “History is repeating itself,” joked Neil Harriman, Puma’s legal director.
Puma says it invented the detachable cleats used on the Adidas boots worn by German players when they won the 1954 World Cup final.