Back in 2015, Nike had a near stranglehold on the North American market although it appeared there was room and a desire for an underdog or number two player in the region to emerge.
When a fashion brand has such a dominant market-share, there is always the potential for a competitor to break in simply because fashion forward individuals do not want to look like everybody else. At the time, Under Armour was proving itself to be a viable competitor to Nike, who at the time had nearly a 95 percent market share in the basketball shoe market.
Under Armour endorsers were firing on all cylinders in 2015, Steph Curry was having a breakout year, breaking numerous NBA records, securing the NBA MVP and winning a championship. Jordan Spieth was also having a banner year, winning both the Masters and US Open and nearly won the British Open while securing the Number one position in the world golf rankings. Under Armour couldn’t miss, but what we learned is that athletic endorsements only really move the needle if the endorser transcends their sport, a feat so few athletes have been able accomplish.
Putting out quality product continues to be the most important factor in jump-starting a sportswear brands growth. Yes Under Armour had athletes making noise, but their products and marketing failed to captivate and after several missed opportunities with their product line-up. The company has been in the doldrums ever since, with some investors even going as far to question founder and CEO Kevin Plank’s commitment to the brand.
It was during this time that adidas was firing on all cylinders in the US, reinventing itself by committing greater focus to the North American market. In 2014, Taylormade President Mark King was named the President of the Adidas brand in North America. In 2016, Kasper Rorsted took over as CEO and the brand has never looked back. Adidas, company that has long been deemed a brand that did not understand the US consumer was seeing consistent double digit growth in the region, taking direct share from Nike and bringing Under Armour’s rise to a screeching halt.
Adidas positioned its brand at the intersection of sport and fashion, whereas its competitors Nike and Under Armour stubbornly stuck to their sport performance heritage. The thing is that the athleisure trends rise coincides with Adidas rise, where sportswear has become fashion, and the majority of consumers do not use products for their intended purpose. Casual athletic sportswear and footwear is arguably the most important segment of the athletic apparel market and Adidas was nailing it spot on.
Adidas products became so impactful that many of the ultra luxury brands started releasing their own version of a casual athletic sneaker, something unheard of until now from brands like Gucci, Prada and Balenciaga. Nearly every casual footwear brand has a product that is reminiscent of an adidas like casual runner. At a time when its competitors continued to tout innovation as its key to future growth, Adidas had influence, which is proving to be far more valuable.
(Adidas Harden Volume 2)
Adidas Boost technology has played a pivotal role in the resurgence in relevance and explosive growth the company has seen in North America over the past three years. Launched in 2013, Adidas has had nearly a five year head start on its competitors with an innovative cushioning platform that has transformed the company’s image.
In March, both Nike and Under Armour released their own cushioning innovations, hoping to captivate the market and slow adidas onslaught. Nike launched its Epic React cushioning platform to rave reviews, hoping that the react technology could be the world’s largest sportswear brands answer to adidas’ boost.
(Nike Epic React)
Under Armour also released its HOVR technology in March, a connected fitness shoe aimed to deliver a zero gravity feel and to return as much energy as possible. While it appears Under Armour finally has a good shoe release under its belt, adidas has a sizeable head start.
(Under Armour HOVR)
Yes it is good that Nike and Under Armour finally have new products that can rival adidas, and given how fickle fashion consumers are, its unlikely adidas staggering growth rate can sustain itself for much longer. The problem for Nike and Under Armour is that they are now playing catch-up, a position Nike has rarely found itself in.