Gym craze inspires shoe war
As a consumer, Steven Pokk shares some rarefied company. Like basketball legends Shaquille O’Neill, Dee Brown and Allen Iverson, Pokk owns 15 pairs of Reebok sneakers.
But the Adidas-owned brand has fallen far since its heyday on NBA courts in the 1980s and 1990s. In a bid to rebound, it signed a 10year deal in 2011 to be the official sportswear brand of Crossfit, then a budding workout regimen that mixes a range of fitness strategies, from weights and rowing machines to running and calisthenics. It was a savvy move for a company desperate to stay relevant.
At the time, Pokk, a 33year-old personal trainer in New York, was just getting into Crossfit. With purpose-built sneakers and a standing 15 percent discount, Reebok made him a brand evangelist, one of its first since all those basketball greats from the 1990s.
In late 2014, Pokk and a couple of buddies opened their own Crossfit gym (or “box,” as the vernacular goes): Crossfit Kingsboro in Brooklyn, N.Y. A month later, Adidas archenemy Nike quietly began selling the Metcon, its first trainer for the Crossfit crowd. Pokk rushed out and bought a pair. He now owns eight iterations — wearing them to the gym, walking his dogs and, well, all the time. “I’m wearing them right now,” he said as he left on a vacation to Australia.
As Nike battles Adidas for a slice of the global soccercleat market and tries to fend off surging Under Armour on basketball courts, it’s quietly edging into a multibillion-dollar category that could have far greater impact on the future of the sneaker market.
In an informal Bloomberg survey at five gyms across the country, Nike had won over slightly half the Crossfit crowd, Reebok had a bit more than a one-quarter share and the remainder was split among such smaller running specialists as Asics Corp. and New Balance and cross-training startups such as No Bull.
Make no mistake, the spoils of winning this workout battle will be huge.
“It’s become the fastestgrowing fitness property in the world,” said Reebok president Matt O’Toole.
How fast exactly? There are now about 8,000 Crossfit gyms in the U.S. and 4,000 or so abroad. In them, sweaty masses run through one-hour sessions designed to build overall fitness with stretching, weights and low-impact body movements.
Like any trendy, new club, Crossfit presents its fans with a critical decision: what to wear. On the apparel side, the answers are easy. But footwear is trickier, because the regimen is so varied. On any given day, a Crossfitter might be asked to crawl like a bear, jump rope, carry an empty beer keg or walk up a wall into a handstand.
Where Reebok wrapped its shoe in a grid of thick, rubbery plastic, Nike’s Metcon is more spartan.
No Bull, a brand launched in May 2015 by two former Reebok workers, sells a shoe with a minimalist sole and tough upper.
“The market was ripe for this kind of company,” cofounder Marcus Wilson said. “Crossfit is very much word-of-mouth driven, they like to support small businesses, everyone is on social media, and they are very comfortable buying online. … It’s kind of the perfect formula for us.”
Gabby Wells works out at Crossfit in Loveland on July 15, 2015. Shoe companies are waging war to gain Crossfit enthusiasts’ favor. Trevor L. Davis, Loveland Reporter-Herald