Footwear: Mixing It Up
Tennis shoe manufacturers are creating opportunities with a complex balance that includes changes in the game, available technologies and new fashions.
By Kent Oswald
The tennis shoe market is complex and likely to get more so. There is ever-greater pressure to control inventories at all levels in a way that both minimizes financial investment and maximizes the ability to satisfy customers who have Internet access to worldwide information and sales possibilities.
Tennis specialty stores sold more than a million pairs in 2014 for nearly $100 million (.7% and 3.3% increases, respectively), according to Sports Marketing Surveys/Tennis Industry Association figures. Results for the first two quarters of 2015 (latest available at press time) show a 1.3% increase in units sold, but a negative 1.1% in dollars received, compared to the same period in the previous year. Shoes below $85 account for about 29% of those sales, with those priced above $115 adding up to about 27% of the market.
Manufacturers continue to search for the magical algorithm that perfectly balances the changes in the game (recently a University of Sheffield team began working with the ITF to easily measure how much friction players create when sliding on all courts, particularly hard ones), available technologies, and the needs of fashion that send designers adventuring ever deeper into the Pantone palette. Additionally, there is no longer a specific “season” for product introductions: Shoes are rolled out as series extensions throughout the year as manufacturers (and retailers) adapt on the fly to a fluid marketplace.
Paired with the complexity is opportunity. There is consumer interest in ethical and recycled footwear yet to be fully investigated, and a welcome embrace for the retro Stan Smith, Jack Purcell, and Fred Perry series suggests that new markets await, including the potential of an unexploited area for tennis kicks in a new niche collectibles market. Upcoming highlights (all prices are suggested retail) include:
Keeping with the changing marketplace, the latest offerings of new technologies and colorways in Barricades and Adizeros will be revealed throughout the year rather than in one big splash. First up will be the Barricade 2016 Boost (suggested retail $160), which debuts in January as the foundation of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s game. In this iteration, the shoe, which was a Tennis Magazine Editor’s Choice for 2015, gets not just an eye-catching new skin color but also the technology in the heel that adds a greater energy return to the continuing attributes of robust stability, comfort and durability.
adidas.com • 971-234-2300
Two stories to be shared in 2016 are the GEL-Solution Speed 3 ($130) and the GEL Court Bella for women ($100). As are all its tennis shoe offerings, these are built on the company’s time- and mileage-tested running shoe lasts. The former is updated with three new style options for both men and women and has been tweaked to shave a bit of weight and add a touch more flexibility. The latter is an extremely lightweight (9.2 oz.), comfortable option for women with a low profile offered in two different stylings. Sales support for both will include in-store support and staff incentives; print, online and social media programs; and seasonal introductions and special editions of each series designed to rally attention across the brand.
asicsamerica.com • 800-678-9435
Babolat’s Propulse All Court ($120) for men continues as a sturdy and durable option. For the new year, it features new colorways (including “special edition” themes labeled “Stars & Stripes,” “Skull & Bones” and “Aero”). Players who in the past may not have found the shoe a fit for their game may take comfort in the option of a wider fit shoe, which adds to the slightly more robust toe box that has been part of the shoe since last year.
babolat.com • 877-316-9435
The Italian sportswear company achieved acceptance and accolades for its reintroduction of footwear into the North American marketplace. With a distribution network established, the next step is make more noise, which the company says it will do with the planned announcement for 2016 of the signing of a bold-faced name on both the ATP and WTA tours. The men’s and women’s 2016 S.Star Ks ($139) with signature kangaroo uppers and S.Pro EVOs ($119) will reach store shelves prior to the first ball in Melbourne. Neither series will offer significant tweaks to the just-introduced technologies, but both will feature new, more dramatic colorways. In support of the expected announcement, marketing will continue with in-store support and an emphasis on seeding the product with influencers.
diadora.com • 800-768-4727
The new Cage Delirium ($100) is the featured footwear for Fila’s 2016. The shoes are boldly colored in ways that tie back to the brand’s apparel lines. The shoe is designed for stability, flexibility and comfort, with high-stress areas reinforced for durability. In addition to the hard-court version, the shoe also is available in clay court, grass court and XT outsole options.
fila.com • 800-845-FILA
The California company marks its 50th anniversary in 2016 via a “50 LOVE” campaign celebrating lifestyle aspects of the brand across primary and secondary consumer marketing platforms. Specific to tennis, the Hypercourt ($130) for both men and women has a slightly tweaked new midsole composition and new colorways launching for the Australian Open. The shoes will be highlighted as part of the company’s “100% Tennis Initiative,” a marketing program to reinforce for players how much the sport is an integral part of the company’s DNA.
kswiss.com • 800-768-472
Embracing changes taking place in hard-court play, Wilson unveils widespread distribution of its Glide ($200) in March 2016. The shoe’s soft launch came through availability at select tennis academies and consumer sales at the 2015 US Open. The goal for R&D was to find an effective balance of slide and traction for players on hard courts. From that starting point the company’s R&D folks added to the shoes’ support and stability, as well as reinforcing the shoe in high-wear areas.
wilson.com • 773-714-6400
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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