“Basketball is the game of the game in Germany,“ wrote the Berlin newspaper ‘Tagesspiegel’ in August 1992. “The magic word is Streetball. It’s mega-in.” Streetball was a summer phenomenon around the world for several years in the 1990s; in some countries it still is, even in the new century. This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of adidas Streetball. The first tournament in Germany took place on August 22nd and 23rd, 1992, in front of the ‘Palast der Republik’ right in the heart of (the eastern part of) Berlin. StreetbalI was basketball in the streets, but much more than that: it was the biggest event and PR campaign of its kind ever launched. And I – in my role then as PR manager for adidas Germany – was part of it.
Basketball conquers the world
The timing could not have been better: the US Dream Team at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona excited a global audience for the sport of basketball. Germany followed suit by claiming a surprise victory at the 1993 European Championship. And, not to forget, adidas athlete Detlef Schrempf reached the peak of his career by being the first German to make headlines in the US for his winning performances in the NBA (including making it to the NBA finals with the Seattle Supersonics in 1996). So basketball was in the hearts and minds of sports fans and young consumers around the world.
An overwhelming response
Still, it was quite an adventure, as the American Ric Long, then in charge of our Business UnitBusiness Unit (BU) is an organisation within the company which unites various business functions which are all relevant to a specific market segment. At the adidas Group, BUs are suborientated to the individual brands. Business Units at the adidas Group include BU Basketball, BU Swim or BU Football. Basketball recalled for the adidas History Book: “We wanted to get the kids who had an interest in basketball and give them a chance to join a team and play basketball for a weekend. We bought baskets, standards, hoops, ball, everything, and we put them up. It was crazy.” But this craziness paid off. 365 teams showed up for the first tournament in Berlin, and 18,000 spectators followed the mix of sport, music and action sports.
Streetball going global
Based on this success, the adidas Brand Management team really got behind Streetball. In the following years we added more and more countries to the Streetball mix, playing in Moscow on Red Square, in La Defense in Paris and in the centre of Hong Kong. In Germany we toured basically every major city and offered smaller-scale tournaments to our retail partners. Come the mid 1990s, I think basically every major media had in some shape or form written about adidas Streetball and, at one point, Streetball came in number four in the list of Top Ten Things to do. The German TV channel ZDF even reported live from the Streetball finals in Berlin.
From a marketing point of view, adidas Streetball added event marketing to our marketing mix, alongside sport sponsorships and advertising. And it was a perfect tool to rejuvenate the brand, which in turn helped adidas to achieve a fantastic comeback in the 1990s. Still today, kudos go to Herbert Hainer, Erich Stamminger, Hermann Deininger and Charles Kratzer for really getting behind Streetball, and to the Berlin PR agency Schröder+Schömbs for getting the Streetball PR going. Today, adidas Streetball is still played in some markets around the world and in Berlin at the adidas supported Streetball School finals.