The Story of How Pelé’s Shoe Deal Fueled the Feud Between the Founding Brothers of Adidas and Puma Surfaces

With the passing of Brazilian soccer icon Pelé, people within the world of sports have used their platforms to share legendary stories of the beloved athlete. One story circulating on Twitter involves a deal that Pelé signed with German athletic powerhouse Puma.

Joe Pompliano, founder of the sports business-focused newsletter Huddle Up, shared a lengthy thread on Twitter yesterday detailing the relationship between brothers Rudolf and Adolf Dassler. The contentious relationship led to the split of their company, the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory, in 1948. It also led to the formation of both Puma (Rudolf’s company) and Adidas (created by Adolf).

In his Twitter thread, Pompliano detailed the how the relationship became impossible to repair. American soldiers, according to Pompliano, picked up Rudolf in 1943 and accused him of being a member of the Nazi Party military branch Waffen SS. Rudolf, as Pompliano stated in his thread, was convinced that Adolf had turned him in.

Although the brothers had formed rival companies, the rise in popularity of Pelé led them to once again work together. In the thread, Pompliano explained how Adidas and Puma would form the “Pelé Pact” to avoid a bidding war that “would bankrupt both companies.” With the pact, Pompliano said both companies agreed that they would not sign the athlete.

However, in 1970, Puma brokered what Pompliano described as “one of the smartest marketing plays of all time.” The brand reportedly offered Pelé $120,000 to walk to midfield seconds before kick-off of the 1970 World Cup quarterfinal match between Brazil and Peru and ask the official for time to tie his shoes. Pompliano stated cameras caught Pelé as he approached midfield to tie his shoes — and that Puma paid the cameraman to ensure a closeup shot happened — and millions of people discovered Pelé was a Puma athlete.

As one would expect, the deal with Pelé — which Pompliano said was structured in a way that circumvented the “Pelé Pact” — angered Adidas and Adolf, bolstered Puma’s sales and strengthened the angst between the two brands.

The death of Pelé, whose name was Edson Arantes do Nascimento, was confirmed yesterday on his social media accounts. The soccer icon was 82.

“Inspiration and love marked the journey of King Pelé, who peacefully passed away today. On his journey, Edson enchanted the world with his genius in sport, stopped a war, carried out social works all over the world and spread what he most believed to be the cure for all our problems: love,” the statement on his Instagram account read.

It continued, “His message today becomes a legacy for future generations. Love, love and love, forever.”

Among his many accomplishments, Pelé is the only player to win the World Cup title three times, having won with Brazil in 1958, 1962 and in 1970. What’s more, at just 17, Pelé became the youngest player to score in a World Cup, and with the win became the youngest to ever win the tournament.

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