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Philippe Troussier was not the only Frenchman elated with the surprisingly good performance of the Japanese squad in the FIFA World Cup.

For Christophe Bezu, president of adidas Japan K.K., it meant skyrocketing demand for the company’s products. “It helped our sales enormously,” he said.

“We were like Troussier,” said Bezu, who noted that his firm’s sales grew considerably thanks to Team Japan making the second round and explained that in that sense, “the mission” of his firm was also accomplished.

But unlike his compatriot, whose contract as team coach ended after Japan exited the tournament, the 44-year-old Bezu has to keep the ball rolling even after the final whistle.

Although the protracted economic slump has taken its toll on the Japanese sporting goods market, with demand for such items as golf clubs falling sharply, foreign powerhouses are continuing their foray.

Industry observers say that despite the sluggish sporting goods market, which is estimated to stand at around 2 trillion yen, global giants like adidas and Nike are driving their domestic rivals into a corner, logging rapid growth thanks to their massive promotional bids.

“The sheer volume of marketing by foreign firms is enormous,” said Toshimi Sakamoto, president of The Japan Sports Industry News, a weekly trade paper for the sporting goods market. “Domestic manufacturers cannot match it with the budgets they have now.”

And the marketing seems to be working. Although neither adidas nor Nike disclose business figures for their Japanese subsidiaries, Sakamoto estimates that Nike Japan Corp. registered a 25 percent growth in sales last year to around 80 billion yen despite the sluggish performance of the sector as a whole.

As its parent firm’s “fastest-growing subsidiary in the world,” adidas Japan predicts that its sales will have surged 186 percent by the end of calendar 2002 compared with 1999, with the number of shops nationwide slated to grow from the current 60 to around 80 by the end of 2003.

The company hopes to dominate the Japanese market by riding the wave of “fever” created by soccer’s gala event, but it faces the difficult test of how to hold the public’s attention after the monthlong euphoria dissipates into a humdrum daily drill.

While admitting that Japanese are quick to forget the past, Bezu said he is confident.

“We will keep our Fever Campaign (even after the World Cup) to create fever in each category of products, like tennis and running.”

As for a broader strategy, Bezu said his company is placing greater importance on female consumers, who have traditionally been left on the sidelines when it came to pitching sporting goods. Its “Concept Shops” are touted as female-friendly, with store layouts and product lineups targeting women.

Meanwhile, threatened by the marketing blitz by foreign powerhouses, at least one domestic firm is trying to hold its ground by utilizing its traditional sales channels.

For Mizuno Co., that means selling equipment to the nation’s schools.

Mizuno boasts retail channels with 2,600 shops nationwide, including mom-and-pop stores that traditionally cater to local schools — a corner of the playing field that foreign firms have yet to invade.

It also enjoys strong connections with teachers and school sports associations that have been built through decades of transactions.

According to the firm, it is the top supplier for both national high school soccer and baseball tournaments. Twenty-six percent of schools in this year’s national soccer tournament used its equipment, while the figure has stood at levels close to 40 percent for baseball.

“We have grassroots distribution channels and offer very attentive service to our clients through sports clinics and other services,” said Jotaro Ueji, a director at Mizuno. “I don’t think our rivals can do the same.

“We cannot conduct massive marketing campaigns like foreign firms, so we have to take a more down-to-earth approach, using our stronghold on the school market.”

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