It sounds like another marketing gimmick, but Adidas promises its new Energy Boost running shoes will actually make runners lighter on their feet. The German footwear giant says a new, springier sole material, which looks vaguely like Styrofoam, returns energy better than traditional compounds and could help it close the gap with Nike, the industry leader.
It’s merely the latest salvo in an increasingly competitive industry, which generated $14 billion in the U.S. last year. “The sneaker business has hit another level,” says Matt Powell, an analyst at SportsOneSource in Maine. “Technology and colour are driving the market right now.”
Nike has embraced technology in a big way. Last year, it unveiled a wristband that measures how far the wearer walks, how many calories they burn, and syncs all the data with a smartphone. It also introduced a $250 pair of basketball sneakers equipped with sensors that can tell players how high they jump. And it’s constantly releasing new colour combinations to keep consumers buying. That includes Day-Glo Christmas editions of its Lebron X and Kobe 8 basketball shoes that went on sale last year.
Closing the gap won’t be easy for Adidas, which only has about 10 per cent of the U.S. market, compared to Nike’s 60 per cent. In addition to running, Adidas is also hoping to woo new American customers by leaning on its sponsorship deal with soccer phenom Lionel Messi, whose new line of gear was rolled out globally last month. While soccer has long held a low profile in the U.S., Adidas appears to be betting that Messi is a big enough superstar to help it make a breakthrough.
Adidas isn’t the only one trying to run down Nike. Known mostly for its tight-fitting compression tops and other gear, Baltimore’s fast-growing Under Armour is also keen to establish itself as a shoe brand and recently opened a new 8,000-sq.-foot store in Baltimore that’s stocked with footwear. Founder and CEO Kevin Plank has made no secret of putting Nike in his crosshairs and recently launched a lawsuit that alleges Nike improperly used Under Armour’s “I will” tag line in its advertising.
Powell says both Adidas and Under Armour are making strides. But he warns that when it comes to Nike’s U.S. dominance, “they have a long, long way to go to catch up.”