Footwear: Regaining Its Footing
Tennis shoes are enjoying steady sales growth, as manufacturers take advantage of Grand Slam visibility.
By Kent Oswald
Product launches are more likely to take place earlier in the tennis year, but the US Open’s fortnight still turns out to be the perfect time to talk current results and the future. The pizzazz, glamour and excitement radiating out to the world from Flushing Meadows provides just the right vibe for highlighting the good news current in the state of tennis footwear.
As an example, all the high-tech, slow-mo televised shots of players racing and sliding across the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center’s hard courts echo indelible impressions from this year’s previous Majors. Whether on hard, clay or grass courts, seconds-long close-ups linger over fashion-forward outsoles tortured in slides, or enhanced cushioning supporting players as they turn on a dime to head in a new direction or providing the traction and durability and technological innovation every manufacturer tries to explain.
So, if a picture is worth a thousand words, what is the value of repeated videos showcasing from multiple angles shoes doing their thing? Increased dollar and unit sales.
Figures from Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS), which reviews the specialty store market for the Tennis Industry Association, among other clients, show steady sales growth over the past several years for tennis shoes, with consistent single-digit increases for units and dollars. This trend is most impressive when compared to the fitness industry’s footwear benchmark — running shoe sales — which have been much more volatile. The most recent figures available at press time showed, for example, a first-quarter 2014 comparison of tennis shoes up 3 percent in units and 7 percent in dollars, year-over-year, compared to negative 8 percent in units and negative 6 percent in dollars.
While individual manufacturers do not share the specifics of how their individual sales are contributing to that good news, it doesn’t take much asking for them to share a few highlights of the role they played in contributing to the overall sales success, as well as a few thoughts on what they will be doing to keep the momentum flowing.
adidas.com • 971-234-2300
David Malinowski, team category manager for Adidas America, points to the company’s range as a key driver to meeting customer demand. “We can make a super lightweight shoe like our Climacool Rally Comp weighing in at 10.9 oz. [with] solid stability, comfort and good outsole durability,” he notes. “If you drag your toes and go through uppers, this shoe is not for you. If you need tour-player-type stability, durability and additional durability to the upper but want to keep it light, you should play in the Adizero Feather III. It weighs in at 11.9 oz and is played on tour by Tsonga and Verdasco.”
The company’s most technologically enhanced shoe, the Barricade, will be seen in its two versions all over the courts. There will be the Stella McCartney Barricade on the feet of WTA stars in a version that “hides” the features, and the new Barricade 8+ — launching as the company’s newest entry in the “#smash the silence” campaign — with the amped-up stability, durability, fit and breathability incorporated into the shoe’s look.
asicsamerica.com • 800-678-9435
Riding its own wave of technological advancement, Asics has seen its market share trend toward the top rungs of the specialty tennis market in the last couple of years, with its Gel-Resolution 5 landing as the top shoe in dollar share in recent figures provided by SMS, and the Gel-Solution Speed 2 recently honored with an “Editor’s Choice” Award for ‘Best Game Day Shoe’ by Tennis magazine.
According to Terry Schalow, brand director, the company’s momentum in the tennis market is due to its focus on lightweight product solutions. He claims, “We don’t believe we’ve reached that limit [where lack of weight means lack of durability] yet … as long as new and improved materials are available, we’ll continue to achieve our goal of weight reduction without sacrificing durability.” And next up to make that point will be the Gel-Resolution 6, set to launch just before the 2015 Australian Open.
babolat.com • 877-316-9435
Babolat, which has aggressively courted younger players for years via grassroots efforts and through its social media campaign, has also increased its spend on the more traditional mix of TV, print and event sponsorship. This year’s flagship has been the Propulse 4, which Fitness magazine named its “Best Tennis Sneaker” for 2014. The remainder of the year will see a push for a greater in-store presence through player outreach and merchandising programs as a prelude to the brand’s next generation, details of which were not sharable at press time.
diadora.com • 800-768-4727
The successful re-entry into the North American tennis shoe market (through a distribution deal with Dunlop) for Italian sporting goods giant Diadora has been based on fulfilling a promise. According to Hunter Hines, Dunlop America’s director of marketing and product development, “Footwear has to deliver on the performance expectation. In short, it’s not that performance is becoming less emphasized by consumers, only that fashion seems to be gaining more consideration.”
The company’s shoe lines for men and women feature the performance-oriented Star Ks and comfortable/durable Speed Pro MEs (which picked up a Tennis Magazine, Germany, Editor’s Choice award) and will get a bit more robust in 2015. New colorways are being introduced for both men and women in the Star K line, and the brand’s story will branch out a bit more with Speed Evo and Speed Tech extensions. Additional focus has been placed on the support and comfort of the shoes, as well as continued emphasis on fit and durability. The 2015 models are scheduled to begin arriving pre-Aussie Open to pre-Indian Wells.
fila.com • 800-845-FILA
Shoe and clothing sales for Fila continue their ascent of recent years. According to Mickey Rivera, director of tennis sales, those results are significantly attributable, “through merchandising new colorways of the Sentinel footwear with corresponding tennis apparel collections.” In that spirit, the company has timed the debut of its new Sentinel shoes for kids to the US Open. The colorways — also to be featured in men’s and women’s versions — are white/blue night/green gecko for boys and white/safety yellow/diva pink for girls.
Mark Eggert, VP of advance concepts–footwear, describes the process leading to increased public acceptance and the resulting sales advances as “iterative” and just one aspect that makes this an exciting time for the industry: “Tennis shoes are getting faster and more appealing aesthetically as manufacturers develop newer materials and constructions to meet their technical demands. Obviously older tennis shoes have taken on a life of their own as vintage fashion items, so technical stories are what sets newer looks apart.” No surprise, he is looking forward to unveiling the new colorways and technological tweaks for the Sentinel in early 2015.
newbalance.com • 800-253-7463
With Milos Raonic as its standard bearer, New Balance has been on a roll for the last couple of years, tennis shoe-wise. Earlier in the year the Boston-based company sent five colorway combinations out into the marketplace in its 1296 line; for this year’s Open they unveil a special edition of their lightweight, responsive and stable 996 that they are counting on to be a highlight of TV screens as part of a very successful run for the rocket-serving 23-year-old, Canada’s first-ever Top 10 player. Accompanying the campaign, New Balance also is featuring a coordinating kit. The plan is to build on that attention throughout the fall and into 2015 with digital, social and print promotions.
Even as Prince’s T22 continues its run at the top of the tennis specialty shop hit parade, the company continues to bolster the line with two additional color stylings in the fall, and the release of a “limited edition” model. In June the company added to its premier performance model, the Warrior, with three new colorways for men and two for women. During the US Open Series, the company also launched its QT Scream 4 (lighter and more plush inside), as well as its true mid-cut NFS Viper, which features superior stability and cushioning. As always, the company will support the new products with its tour team and a continuing social media presence.
If there is one company guaranteed ample screen time at the Open, it is Wilson, if for no other reason than all play begins with Wilson tennis balls. Of course, the Chicago company also dominates the view with endorsement deals for racquets, string and clothing throughout the ranks of top players. Special for this year’s Flushing Meadows fortnight, Wilson will also unveil a special edition of the Rush Pro, celebrating its own 100th anniversary as a sporting goods company with a striking black/gold/red low-cut shoe.
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.
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