Edson Arantes do Nascimento, the Brazilian soccer legend better known as Pelé, recently passed away at the age of 82. There have been plenty of memorable tributes to his life and career with plenty more still to come, but business and sports writer Joe Pompliano recently took to Twitter to share one that might just be the most impressive of them all. It deals with a bitter sibling rivalry that eventually crossed paths with Pelé’s superstardom in the world of football and led to him collecting a $120,000 paycheck just for tying his shoelaces.
The brothers were Adolf and Rudolf Dassler, who started a shoe company that went from a bedroom enterprise to a huge business phenomenon with the invention of screw-on spikes, worn by Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics. But as the company continued to grow, the brothers became bitter rivals and eventually it dissolved, with each brother starting his own shoe business. Adolf Dassler’s company was known as Adidas (a combination of the first syllables of his first and last names), while Rudolph’s eventually became Puma. Both brands saw a lot of early success and are of course still well known brands to this day, and when Pelé’s superstardom on the field began to pick up in the late 1960s, as well as the kind of sports star endorsement deals that would become the industry’s bread and butter, Puma and Adidas agreed not to pursue such a deal with him as a bidding war could have bankrupt both of them. Then, in 1970, Rudolph Dassler broke the “Pelé Pact” with a very unusual marketing idea involving the player.
Pelé was set to play with Brazil against Peru in the 1970 World Cup semi-final, and Puma approached the team’s most famous player with an offer for $120,000 – or about $1 million in today’s dollars. But the deal had an important wrinkle: not only would Pelé wear a pair of Puma sneakers on the field during the game, but he would also agree to stop and tie his shoes at mid-field just before kickoff. The world would then see that Pelé was a Puma athlete, and Pompliano says the company even ensured a dramatic close-up in the TV broadcast by paying off a camera operator. The secret, pact-violating arrangement was a big success, and Puma saw record sales as a result of Pelé being seen tying his Pumas right before the game.
And Pelé made a cool $120,000 just for lacing up his sneakers!