By Emma Thomasson
BERLIN (Reuters) - A deal by Puma to outfit the Red Bull Formula One team underlines a bid by the German firm to rebuild its reputation for sports performance gear by ramping up marketing spending in focus areas, its chief executive said in an interview.
Puma, which previously sponsored Red Bull in 2007-2010 and already has deals with Mercedes and Ferrari, announced on Tuesday a long-term partnership from 2016 to provide the Formula One team with racewear, footwear and teamwear as well as licensed replica, fanwear and lifestyle products.
Puma declined to give financial details.
Since taking over as chief executive in July 2013, Bjorn Gulden has turned Puma's focus back onto sports gear after sales were hurt by a shift into fashion and lifestyle products, He launched a marketing drive last year dubbed "Forever Faster".
"Motor sport is the fastest sport that exists, Formula One being the fastest of the fastest. It fits our DNA," Bavaria-based Gulden told Reuters in a telephone interview. "Red Bull is the most fun in Formula One."
Gulden said the deal would allow Puma to showcase its investment in innovative products, such as shoes for drivers which weigh a third what they did five years ago as they are made with far fewer seams and lighter fabric.
"Weight is crucial for us," said Red Bull team head Christian Horner. "The lightweight materials that Puma are now using in the suits, in the footwear, in the gloves, save us grams but they all add up."
Gulden said sales of merchandise suggested the popularity of Formula One is increasing in emerging markets such as China and India: "It is one of the few sports that is really, really global."
Puma is a distant third in the sportswear market behind Nike and Adidas, but Gulden's efforts to revive the firm are starting to pay off. Majority owner French luxury goods group Kering said last week Puma's first-quarter sales rose 4.5 percent on a comparable basis.
Puma reports full quarterly results on May 8.
Under Gulden, a former Adidas executive and professional soccer player, Puma has struck several high-profile deals, including with English soccer side Arsenal and pop star Rihanna.
"We will continue to over-invest in marketing," he said.
As Puma seeks to rebuild its business, it has focused on the world's most popular sports such as soccer, running, golf and motorsport, pulling out of sailing and rugby at a global level.
"We don't have any short-term plans for adding anything to that portfolio," Gulden said, although Puma is analyzing a possible medium-term move into American sports, a drive German rival Adidas has been pushing of late.
(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Gareth Jones)