When Adidas began, Adi would go to the German national football team and become the official shoemaker of the team, replacing a long-time supplier. That would lead to world-wide recognition in 1954, when the German team won the World Cup. That promoted his products even more. From then on, Adi spent a lot of time searching out athletes in various sports to wear his footwear.
In the 1960s, when Adidas expanded to sports apparel, Adi would look for national teams and athletes to help him promote those products. By 1974, many countries were wearing not only Adidas shoes, but Adidas apparel and playing with Adidas equipment. Since 1974, five different World Cup winning teams have worn Adidas gear and that same year Adi had the company come out with a sports bag.
These promotions would finally lead to Adidas paying athletes to wear their equipment. Adi was not happy about it, but that was the way many other companies were promoting their products and he had to stay a step ahead of them, as well as his brother over at Puma.
Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali, Oscar Robertson, Rod Laver, O. J. Simpson and many others were wearing or promoting his gear. When Adi decided to branch out Adidas to include American football, he got the entire UCLA football team to wear his sports gear. That opened doors to other college football teams, as well as high school and little league football teams.
"The three stripes were originally installed on the shoes to give that part of the shoe more support, but it became our trademark," Adi said. Those three-stripes became so popular that the name Adidas did not even have to be mentioned for people to know the shoes or gear was from Adidas. Today, it is considered one of the most recognizable trademarks in the industry. Because Adi was so involved with the design of each piece of equipment, he knew the way he promoted his company worked.
As sports and sports stars were beginning to grow in popularity, he knew that just advertising was not going to work. Instead, he spent a lot of time sponsoring sporting events, giving away equipment and paying sports stars. According to one news report, during one of the 1970s Olympics, Adidas paid athletes more than $100,000 and supplied equipment worth more than $350,000. This again caused a stir and Adi did not like having to pay athletes to wear his gear. He was happy to supply free equipment, but paying did not sit right with him. "We had to pay the athletes, because if we didn't, another company would, including Puma," Adi would later say.
However, Adidas did a good job of finding the right athletes to promote their products. Ones Adi knew would be winners. Adi even spoke to Mark Spits about how he should make sure that he showed he was wearing Adidas shoes, Spits got so excited about what Adi had told him, he raised the Adidas shoes over his head and on international television after one of his golf medal wins. This was how Adi promoted his products.