G-O-O-O-A-L: Making a big impression
by Jenny Mero, FORTUNE Magazine reporter

MUNICH (FORTUNE Magazine) -- He's known as "King Kahn" in Germany. But soccer star Oliver Kahn never had it so big. Although pushed aside as first-string goalie on the German national team at this year's World Cup, Kahn got top billing in Adidas's enormous ad campaign, the company's largest ever. Here, weighing 113 tons and made of steel, he's arched across a four-lane highway at the Munich airport, reaching for - what else? - an official Adidas 2006 World Cup ball.

Motorists can't miss the captain of the Bayern Munich football club (he's wider than the wingspan of some Boeing 747s). Nor are visitors to the Cologne train station likely to miss the 8,600-square-foot ceiling fresco that Adidas commissioned; it features ten players, including David Beckham, who are under contract with the German sporting-goods company. The painting, which mimics Michelangelo's masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel, took illustrator Felix Reidenbach 40 days to complete.

Adidas, which paid nearly $60 million for the rights to be an official World Cup sponsor, is clearly taking advantage of its home-team status. "Being on our turf gives us an opportunity to redefine our leadership," says Evan Wiener, a spokesman for Adidas Soccer. "And we wanted to capitalize on that. It's a unique situation that affected our marketing strategy." The company, which acquired Reebok last year, is now the No. 2 sporting-goods company in the world, and closer to archrival Nike.

The World Cup is the biggest sporting event on the planet: One billion people are expected to watch the final match on TV July 9, and more than $1 billion will have been spent by official sponsors and other companies to advertise their products by then. Even if Germany doesn't win, Adidas clearly will: It expects to sell more than $1.5 billion of soccer gear this year around the globe.

As for the 37-year-old Kahn, this will be his last appearance in a World Cup. Sometime in 2008 -and after the 9,800 screws holding up his likeness at the Munich airport are removed - he plans to retire.  Top of page