Outlook 2012: Footwear — Holding the Line
Although shoe releases seem to have declined this year, the latest models incorporate tech advances and address needs to help players’ games.
By Kent Oswald
In 2009, the annual Participation Survey by the USTA and TIA counted 5.4 million frequent tennis players in the U.S; the 2011 survey shows frequent participation has slipped to 4.8 million. Have we really lost 1.2 million tennis feet in two years?
It’s not enough that tennis shoes appear to no longer be the fashion statement for the general population they were years ago. Or that manufacturers for the American market — where hard-court play dominates — are trying to incorporate ever lighter materials into their products. Or that the general economy has been down. Losing (even temporarily misplacing) 600,000 potential shoe shoppers would never be positive for the tennis shoe biz.
Still, even if you can see a reflection of those talking points in the constrained number of new shoes being released this year, there is good news. It’s not just that technology is being dressed up in new colors; the shoes being released to the marketplace, few as they may be, address needs and incorporate scientific advances and new thinking about the role of footwear in the game.
adidas.com • 800-448-1796
Trying to improve their “story” for retailers and consumers, Adidas is refocusing its shoe line around three types of players — those looking for something light and fast, players most concerned with comfort, and the hardcore player. Those who rely on speed will be looking into the adiZero series (a new model that will have a new sprinter bottom to help with sliding, available by the time the US Open Series rolls around in July). Players targeting comfort should focus on Response kicks, and the hardcore will find their best match with the company’s Barricades.
The most recent offering of this last series, the Barricade 7.0, is launching in both a men’s (Andy Murray-endorsed) and women’s (Andrea Petkovic-endorsed) versions. With the 7.0, Adidas shaved weight from previous models, while also continuing to offer a high level of stability, durability and shock absorption. Continuing the German company’s exploration of the color palette, the men’s version will be available in running white/iron/black, running white/high energy/prime blue, white/black/high energy and black/high energy. Women will see the version adapted to their needs in running white/core energy/metallic silver, running white/metallic silver/ultra green or prime ink/metallic silver/core energy.
babolat.com • 877-316-9435
Babolat will be expanding its Andy Roddick-endorsed Propulse line in 2012 with the Propulse 3 (in black/gray/green, red/white/black or white/black/ silver) and Propulse Lady 3 adaptation (in black/pink or white/red/silver). The key features remain with grip and durability delivered in the sole through a partnership with fellow French iconic brand Michelin, as well as the heel cushioning, support and comfort of the earlier models.
head.com • 800-289-7399
In March, Head expands its Speed Pro shoe line. Adopting the current “less weight is better” trend for shoes, the company reduced weight by 12 percent in fashioning the new Speed Pro Lite for men (in black/white/orange and white black). Related to that lighter feel, the shoes offer an easier and shorter “break-in” period out of the box, while continuing to provide the outsole durability, internal comfort, arch stability and vibration absorption in the heel of the previous models.
newbalance.com • 800-253-7463
New Balance sees color and weight as the key themes moving forward. Its 851 shoes were introduced last year, adapting insights and technology developed for the running-shoe side of the business to the requirements of the tennis court. A men’s version is available in white/black or black/yellow and one for women can be found in either black/blue or white/blue/yellow. Additionally, both versions are available in a Polo Player insignia version (white/black with orange and green highlights) celebrating the company’s relationship with Ralph Lauren as a member of the team that outfits ball kids at this year’s US Open.
wilson.com • 800-272-6060
While not true at the pro and highest player levels, most players are relying on one shoe no matter what surface they will be hitting on. Wilson has embraced that reality with its all-court, low-profile Tour Ikon shoes for both men (in silver/red/black) and women (white/silver/super pink). To accommodate both hard-court and clay-court play, the shoes have a multi-directional sole, in addition to the technology that creates the stability, cushioning, heel support, energy return, breathability and moisture management today’s players expect and require.
kswiss.com • 800-714-4477
Continuing its rebranding strategy — adding a complement of technological innovation to its fashion renown — K-Swiss had Gael Monfils debuting his signature line, the Tubes Monfils Mid (in black/silver/blue), Down Under in January. In addition to the featured Tubes technology in the sole, offering a new level of cushioning and comfort for the company’s line, the shoe also delivers a high level of traction and durability, says K-Swiss. Not ignoring fashion, the shoes are decorated on the tongue with a caricature of the seemingly elastic and electric Monfils.
princetennis.com • 800-2TENNIS
Jerome Jackson, Prince’s global business director for footwear, explains the key (non-economic) challenge: “Color continues to be important in creating an iconic image for footwear. [But] with tennis being one of the most demanding sports on your feet, it’s important that we deliver footwear that is not only lightweight but also durable enough to hold up to the rigors that go with an athlete’s playing style.”
Accepting that challenge, the company’s newest models are members of the Lightspeed and T families. The Rebel 2LS (in black/yellow or black/white/green for men and silver/yellow for women) offers improved traction and durability, with an emphasis on extra cushioning and shock absorption. The T24 (in black/white/red or white/navy/silver for men and black/purple or white/silver for women) delivers advances through extra cushioning, comfort, breathability and stability.
See all articles by Kent Oswald
About the Author
Kent Oswald is a contributor to TennisNow.com, producer at the JockBookReview.com and a former editor of Tennis Week magazine.