Oregon based Nike and Bavarian Adidas have dictated the sportswear scene for decades in the Middle East with both making a lot of noise in what one may call a largely “untapped” Middle Eastern market.

Last quarter, Nike had recorded one of its best international sales figures at $3.69 billion making up for almost 53.1% of the brand’s revenue. While majority of it could be attributed to specific regions like Western Europe and East Asia, the rising influence of developing markets like the Middle East is hard to deny with Saudi Arabia leading in the façade.

According to a recent evaluation of emerging markets by Credit Suisse in its 2015 Emerging Markets Consumer Survey, Nike has extended its market share in the country where 51 percent of the population is under the age of 25 (Wilson Center’s Study of Winter 2011).

The ‘swoosh’ was able to pick steam in the past few years against its largest rivals, Adidas. In the below table comparing the share in the past few years, Saudi Arabia is the only market which noted noteworthy gains in share over Adidas. But what’s most astonishing is the inflated nature of those gains – while Adidas’ share remained steady in Saudi Arabia last year, Nike saw a 11% increase there among consumers in the retail sportswear market.

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Nike’s rise in sports shoe share in Saudi Arabia, courtesy of Credit Suisse.

So, how did Nike manage to reach to the audience?

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In November 2014, Saudi Arabia unveiled their new home and away Nike kits just before the Gulf Cup of Nations. Using Nike’s famed Dri-FIT technology, the fabric was made from recycled plastic water bottles with the green away jersey reflecting the country’s national flag.

The brand’s rise in Saudi Arabia could also be credited to a genuine lack of competition and non-existent domestic brands. And considering the nation’s inclination towards Western products, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Nike be on top of their mind. For example, few conversations with Saudi citizens revealed that a large percent of the population believes General Motors’ GMC brand to be local, referring to the North American automaker as “JIMS”. Hence, Credit Suisse’s study suggested that 93% of Saudi Arabians are currently planning to buy Western athletic shoes and apparel.

Nike is also seeking to make its presence felt by directly approaching the consumers within Saudi Arabia in the very capacity, which is beloved to the population. Nike Most Wanted, the brand’s unique global talent search program giving amateur footballers the opportunity to prove themselves, was recently hosted in Riyadh (KSA) for the very first time.

Applications underwent screening and selection process by Nike coaches, with prospects being invited to trials. The top three finalists, who made it out of the trials, would get the opportunity to compete at the Most Wanted global competition in summer at The Nike Football Academy.

With brands like Puma and Under Armour entering the region to capitalize on the potential that it offers, the race to gain market share will only intensify. However, if Nike continues to reach out to the audience in the manner it currently is, it will be in a unique position warranting continual growth for years to come.

FYI: We tried reaching out to both Nike Middle East and Adidas Middle East for data, but did not receive any response.

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