German sportswear firm Puma wants to forge even closer ties with Usain Bolt, the highest profile athlete it sponsors, if the Jamaican sprinter retires after the Rio Olympics, predicting he could be just as valuable off the track.
"Usain is part of the Puma family," Chief Executive Bjorn Gulden told reporters on Wednesday.
"If he decides not to run, we will probably work even closer with him," he said, adding Bolt would have more time for product development and could even take on a commercial role at Puma.
Bigger rival Nike has built a brand with annual sales of $2.8 billion with retired basketballer Michael Jordan, while Adidas still uses former England soccer star David Beckham to promote its products.
Gulden made the comments after Puma reported a stronger-than-expected rise in second quarter sales, helped by the European soccer championships as well as products designed by singer Rihanna, appointed women's creative director in 2014.
Bolt has been at the centre of a push by Gulden to put more emphasis on sport performance gear rather than fashion, also bolstered by its sponsorship of English soccer side Arsenal.
Bolt has promoted Puma's "Ignite" running shoes, but Bankhaus Lampe analyst Peter Steiner said track and field was a relatively small category so his eventual retirement was unlikely to be a big hit.
Puma reported a quarterly net profit of 1.6 million euros ($1.8 million), compared with a loss of 3.3 million a year ago. Sales rose 7 percent to 827 million euros.
Puma shares pared earlier gains to trade up 0.2 percent by 1051 GMT, while owner Kering rose 2.3 percent. Adidas, which has been hitting a series of record highs in anticipation of bumper results on Aug. 4, was up 1.1 percent.
Gulden said it was not clear whether the six-time Olympic sprint champion, who has been sponsored by Puma since he was 15 years old, would keep running after the Rio Olympics, saying Bolt might need time off to think about it.
Gulden said the Jamaican was already helping Puma hunt for a successor, adding the company has a strong scouting operating in the Caribbean: "We have to admit there won't be a second Usain but there will be something else," he said.
While the Olympics is a major platform for the brand, Gulden said it was hard to measure a direct impact on sales as fans do not buy replica team shirts in the same way they do forsoccer.
Puma's quarterly sales jumped a currency-adjusted 23.5 percent in Europe, Middle East and Africa, helped by its sponsorship of five national soccer teams at Euro 2016.
Gulden said Puma's partnerships with Rihanna and celebrity Kylie Jenner were helping it win more space at key retailers, which are all putting more focus on the women's business because it is growing faster than the men's.