Adidas looks to avoid reputational risk with move to end athletics sponsorship

Adidas’ sponsorship of the International Association of Athletics Federations has been on volatile terms “for some time now” and the sports brand feels it now has “valid grounds” to pull out, according to sources with inside knowledge of the deal.

Reports emerged last night (24 January) suggesting that Adidas, the IAAF’s biggest sponsor, had told the athletics’ world governing body it wants to terminate its sponsorship deal three years early.

The 11-year tie-up was due to run until 2019 and is reportedly worth up to $6m annually. However, with a high-profile doping and corruption scandal currently damaging the reputation of athletics, it is understood the IAAF and Adidas are now in talks about ending the contract.

In a statement, Adidas didn’t exactly rule out the authenticity of the initial BBC report, simply saying: “As you know Adidas has a clear anti-doping policy in place. Therefore, we are in close contact with the IAAF to learn more about their reform process.”

And, one source with knowledge of the deal, says there has been growing tension between Adidas and the IAAF for some time now.

“Obviously the overall drug issues are a big factor but the IAAF’s decision to host the 2021 World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, which is obviously Nike’s HQ, did not go down well at all,” he told Marketing Week.

IAAF president Sebastian Coe was previously a Nike ambassador although he has since stepped down from the role.

“The waters were already muddied and when you start to add up all of the mistakes it doesn’t look good from the Adidas perspective.

“Trying to sell products related to a game where their purity is in direct question due to cheating is a disaster. Obviously people still need to be prosecuted in terms of the doping issues but Adidas will look at their reputational risk clauses and believe there are valid grounds for a breach of contact by the IAAF.”

The reputational impact

The IAAF’s commercial partner Dentsu, which heads up the marketing and sponsorship deals for athletics, will be most impacted financially if Adidas go ahead, according to another inside source.

In September 2014, the IAAF renewed its agency partnership with Dentsu for 15 years. However that deal was signed off by former IAAF president Lamine Diack, a man the World Anti-Doping Agency has said was “responsible for organising and enabling the conspiracy and corruption that took place in the IAAF.”

“That deal was renewed under quite suspicious circumstances by Diack and I don’t think we’ve heard the last of that,” said another senior source.

“Ultimately if Adidas pull out it will impact Dentsu more than the IAAF as they pay the marketing rights. Financially speaking, Adidas dropping out won’t hit the IAAF too badly but for its reputation it is very bad.

“If the £200m Dentsu deal was now to end too that would be the bigger worry for the IAAF.”

This isn’t the first time Adidas, which recently announced the appointment of Kasper Rorsted as its new CEO, has seen one of its high-profile sponsorships marred in scandal.

Adidas recently said it would “be forced to re-evalulate” its sponsorship of FIFA should the footballing body fail to implement reforms.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here