Footwear Preview: Running in place?
Tennis shoe sales may be treading water, but manufacturers are stepping in with new offerings for 2014.
By Kent Oswald
Tennis shoe sales appear to be treading water. Heading into 2014, there is some good news: less price sensitivity, a rising junior playing population and technological innovations. But the niche is not currently an enviable slot in the marketplace. Sales are relatively flat, and selling tennis shoes can be a balancing act for retailers — manufacturers often promote their shoes’ performance and fit, yet consumers often consider shoes in terms of fashion.
While there is an increasing emphasis by manufacturers to address the aesthetic allure of tennis shoes as well as build even more robust footwear technology, both stories often get overshadowed by what’s happening with running shoes, which is by far the dominant tenant in the sports footwear category. Tennis players’ expectations, based on what they see in running, include even lighter choices with many more color and fashion options.
Tennis shoe sales shrank .9 percent to $161 million in 2012 compared to 2011, while the overall sports footwear category grew in sales from $13.1 to $13.6 billion, according to data from the Tennis Industry Association and the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. The five-year trend saw all purchases progress from just under $13 billion, with tennis’s share stepping up from $157 million. (For comparison purposes, sports sandals were also at $157 million in 2007, but jumped to $190 million in 2012; golf shoes were down over the five-year span from $263 to $255 million, which is where they had plateaued in 2009.)
In the specialty shoe market, manufacturers continue to battle to create a better fit for players, including addressing the unique demands of a shoe that needs to be lighter, support movement in any direction, and provide toe drag and outsole durability, all while providing the color choices customers are accustomed to elsewhere in the sporting goods bazaar. They do so with dreams of a return to the days when tennis shoes were a defining fashion choice off court, or at least to a time when more frequent players are convinced that even though the shoes are more durable, they need more than one new pair at the ready, one each for different surfaces or more than one in coordination with different outfits.
The challenges are likely to continue with no easy resolution in sight. But manufacturers are taking direct aim at the needs-to-be-lighter-but-also-more-durable paradox, arming their retailers with more comfortable and colorful choices, and trying to generate word-of-mouth with integration of social media into their marketing and promotion plans.
adidas.com • 971-234-2300
The recently introduced the Barricade 8 (suggested retail $135) is the latest iteration in the decade-plus shoe franchise. It’s lighter, sleeker and at the same time a more stable and supportive shoe, and has been engineered for a quicker break-in time. Spring colors bloom with solar blue/white/night shade, white/night shade/solar slime and black/white/earth green. January 2014 will see a return of the all-time best-selling Barricade V Classic.
Running mate to the Barricade is the Adizero Climacool Feather III ($125), which in its lightweight new version features a revamped mesh upper, as well as improved durability and stability. Spring shadings include solar blue/tribe blue/solar zest, solar slime/night shade/earth green and white/night blue/solar zest.
The company is promising to encourage even more consumer interaction with the brand via digital, social and print activations. And not to be ignored are the benefits of continuing TV appearances on the feet of players like Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfriend Tsonga and Caroline Wozniacki.
asicsamerica.com • 800-678-9435
Asics will update its Solution Speed shoe line in early 2014. The low-profile, purple/green GEL-Solution Speed 2 ($130) supports quick, aggressive play with its lightweight construction and rear- and forefoot cushioning and will be featured as the flagship for the Speed collection. Tweaks in this successor to the Solution Speed include additional stability through the midsole and a bit more flare to the outsole, adding responsiveness. Introductory colorways are grape/silver/sharp green (women) and black/fiery red/yellow (men) with additional choices planned for later in the year.
Hoping to win over enthusiasts who want a lightweight, responsive platform, Asics will be seeding product to teaching pros and expects to be supporting the shoe’s launch in print and social media, with banner ads and POP materials.
babolat.com • 877-316-9435
With the expansion in December of Babolat’s Propulse 4 ($120) line, it gets ever harder to remember a time when the French company was a string-only enterprise. The performance line known for its low profile, grip and durability — including the Michelin outsole — adds new color combinations (red/black and blue for men; purple/white and blue for women). In spring 2014, the company will debut its lighter-yet-more-cushioned SFX Team All Court (black/yellow).
For sales support, Babolat will continue to rely on its high-profile professional endorsers and its presence on Facebook and Twitter to support dealer sales and incentivize customers, and it will continue to explore programs like the 2013 Faster to the Ball Festival and Summer of Love cross category promotion.
fila.com • 800-845-FILA
From what Mark Eggert, Fila VP of Footwear, Advanced Concepts, describes as a “clean slate sort of project,” came the development of the company’s new Sentinel ($100). Introduced in 2013 and currently available in four color combinations for men and three for women, the line adds a white/blue night/green gecko choice for men and white/safety yellow/diva pink choice for women. The image strategy is to “push design elements and color a little further,” as well as align the Sentinel’s hues with those throughout the sportswear side of the business so players can consider a coordinated statement on court, albeit one that at the ground level offers the benefits of a lightweight shoe with durable outsoles, extra cushioning, and stability inside the fashioned exteriors.
To jumpstart marketing, the company is seeding the brand among influencers (e.g., key juniors, club pros) in order to spark the kind of buzz reminiscent of when Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and others were brand endorsers. Promotions have included a road show of the shoes to junior academies and events, giveaways via Twitter and encouraging player interaction with the brand via the filatennis Instragram image stream. Additionally, the company will launch a tennis microsite in the first quarter of 2014, providing easy click-through to the Fila catalog within the context of a wide range of tennis content.
head.com • 800-289-7366
Featuring seamless uppers (with materials bonded instead of stitched) and outsoles designed to withstand the challenges from players increasingly sliding on all court surfaces, the lightweight Sprint Pro ($130) makes a January 2014 entrance into the shoe market. Men’s colorways will be blue/red/white and black/lime; women’s white/grey/silver and black/pink; and the Sprint Junior ($80) will arrive in blue/red/white. Cross-category promotion from February through July will be exhibited with a $10 Sprint Pro footwear coupon included in cans of Pro Penn Marathon tennis balls.
kswiss.com • 800-714-4477
The Ultra Express ($100) premieres for K-Swiss in spring 2014 with what the company describes as “running-inspired” design, featuring lightweight, moisture-managed uppers, and longer lasting cushioning. In keeping with the running shoe inspiration, color options are neon citron/moroccan blue and fiery red/black/white for men and neon red/white and black/neon red/white for women.
newbalance.com • 800-253-7463
Best known as a running-shoe innovator, New Balance launches its new 1296 ($130), promising “the ultimate in tennis-specific stability,” as the 2014 Australian Open gets under way. Interestingly, the company that prides itself on its American roots — with 25 percent of production still New England-based — stakes out a very worldly viewpoint with color presentation. Men’s and women’s 1296s are available in the same five different combinations (yellow/white, blue/yellow & orange, gray/maroon, white/black & orange, white/blue) and men have one additional option (orange/white).
princetennis.com • 800-2TENNIS
Prince, with its T22 continuing as the market maker in specialty shops, is also interested in dominating discussion on social media and with new color choices. For October 2013, the company rolled out a limited edition pink/white T22 to take part of the Breast Cancer Awareness Month conversation (with 10 percent of the month’s sales proceeds dedicated to the Bright Pink charity and a gift-with-purchase pink tennis ball keychain). Heading into 2014, the company extends the line with a black/electric green choice for men and navy/punch for women. In addition to seeking out new materials and methods to reduce the weight and maintain the T22’s stability, the company is also actively engaged with an estimated 300,000-plus Facebook friends and Twitter followers both to get the word out about its new kicks and to drive business to retailers.
wilson.com • 773-714-6400
Wilson will be giving new looks to the Rush Pro line ($130) for 2014 and reaching out to its female customers in particular by restructuring the insides with what it is calling Women’s Specific Support (WSS). It is also targeting juniors by introducing the lightweight, flexible and multi-colored Rush NGX series. Wilson also is shaving the weight of the shoes and adding an improved All Court Outsole to improve grip and stability.
New Rush Pro colorways for men currently available are white/Wilson red/white, pool/white/silver, white/red/coal, and March 2014 will see the introduction of white/graphite/green glow, white/midnight navy/sun versions. Women can currently pick up on the new white/cherry/white, white/pool/oceana, and white/cyber green shoes. Younger players, and those who want to dress their feet that way in the lighter, more flexible, lower cut, new Rush NGX ($100), have options including black/red/asphalt, graphite/green glow/white and new blue/white/sun in men’s sizes, and oceana/cyber green/white, steel grey/new fuchsia/white in women’s.
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.