Adidas pays around $80 million to be a sponsor of the Olympics and Li Ning gets to carry in the torch, practically burning much of that $80 million and advertising his company for free.
Li Ning isn't just China's most famous gymnast. He's also created the most popular Chinese shoe company, Li-Ning. This year, they're outfitting tons of Olympians, like Argentina's basketball squad, Tanzania's track & field athletes and even China's ping pong players. But they're not an official Olympic sponsor, which means a diminished role for the company in terms of domestic and international advertising during the Games.
So you can imagine how executives at Adidas must have felt when Li Ning stole the biggest moment in the entire Opening Ceremonies. A billion people in China saw him running across the rafters at the Bird's Nest and thought not just of the gymnast but also of his shoes.
This entire country was tuned into the Opening Ceremonies, and worldwide, millions more saw Li Ning light the torch and learned that he owns a shoe company. Even the best Clydesdale ad at the Super Bowl doesn't reach 100 million people.