Puma has signed up Italian striker Mario Balotelli to wear its football boots, part of the "German sportswear company's efforts to strengthen a footwear business that has lost out to rivals Nike and Adidas in recent years," according to REUTERS. Puma, which is 84%-owned by French luxury group Kering, "wants to sign up big-name players" ahead of next year's World Cup in Brazil. Puma "did not disclose the cost of its partnership with Balotelli" (REUTERS, 12/23). GOAL's Chris Davie reported Balotelli's new deal with Puma "got off to a noticeable start after the striker wore his own headline-inspired boots during the Milan derby on Sunday." The design "incorporates the biggest headlines" surrounding the Italy int'l, including "Why always me?" -- which was made famous after Balotelli "struck in Manchester City's 6-1 win" over ManU in '11 (GOAL, 12/23).
BALOTELLI ENDS BLACKOUT: In N.Y., Jack Bell reported Balotelli had "gone a few weeks" wearing cleats that were "blacked out as his representatives went about the business of negotiating a new shoe sponsorship deal" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/23). In London, Alex Richards reported Puma has "long been considered major players in the sports apparel industry, but in recent times have fallen a distant third behind Nike and Adidas." Footwear sales fell 7.5% in the first nine months of '13, and Balotelli "will be a key man in their attempt to close the gap" (DAILY MIRROR, 12/23). Puma's family of star players and athletes includes Usain Bolt, Man City's Sergio Aguero, FC Barcelona's Cesc Fabregas, Borussia Dortmund's Marco Reus, Radamel Falcao of Ligue 1 side Monaco and golfer Rickie Fowler (SportMondo).