By Emma Thomasson
BERLIN (Reuters) - U.S. sportswear group Nike will supply shirts to more teams in the top five European soccer leagues this season than Adidas, but the German firm has cornered the most lucrative clubs, a study showed on Wednesday.
Sports marketing research group Repucom said Nike had outpaced Adidas in Europe for the first time since the 2009/10 season to supply 26 of the region's top clubs, up five compared with last year. Adidas is supplying 18, down four from last year.
Although it has been a serious player in soccer only since 1994, Nike is now threatening Adidas's leadership in the sport. At the World Cup in Brazil, it supplied more teams for the first time and put its boots on more than half the players.
Nike is ahead of Adidas in four of the five top European leagues.
The exception is the English Premier League, the most lucrative with more than 5 million shirts sold last season. Adidas has five English Premier sides, including Chelsea, compared with four for German rival Puma and three for Nike.
"Whilst Nike looks to maximize the number of teams it supplies, Adidas is going for the most popular, most followed and ultimately biggest selling clubs in the world," Repucom soccer expert Andrew Walsh said.
Nike has signed more top teams in Spain, Germany, France and Italy, a total of 23, compared with 13 for Adidas and five for Puma. Repucom said 3 million Spanish club shirts were sold last season, compared with 2.3 million for the Bundesliga and about 1.2 million in each of the top leagues in France and Italy.
"Adidas and Nike, with Puma in third place, have managed to keep a good headlock on the market," Walsh said, noting that U.S. brand Under Armour had not managed to sign another top side after English Premier club Tottenham Hotspur.
Adidas last month struck a record $1.3 billion shirt deal with Manchester United to oust Nike from the former English champions from the 2015/16 season, and it will also replace Nike at Italian champions Juventus next year.
Adidas expects record soccer sales of $2.7 billion in 2014, topping the $2.3 billion Nike reported for its financial year to end-May. While the periods are not directly comparable, Nike has suggested the U.S. company could exceed the Adidas figure for 2014 in its 2014/15 financial year.
Puma, the world's no. 3 sportswear firm, has replaced Nike as the kit supplier at Arsenal from this season as part of a strategy to restore a reputation for performance gear after it shifted too far into fashion.
(editing by Jane Baird)