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By: Emily Potts

To be in with a chance of securing share in the fast-growing global sportswear market, it is crucial that sportswear manufacturers – established big name brands and new entrants to the category alike – identify which sports and activities will get consumers off their couches in the months and years to come.

Reebok Creates Strong Ties with Fitness Trends…

Of late, Reebok has been the most obviously active brand in identifying and tying its name to up-and-coming fitness trends. Spotting the potential in the already popular Les Mills range of studio fitness classes, including Body Pump, Body Combat and Body Balance, Reebok announced it had teamed up with the fitness brand in late 2013, launching a co-branded apparel range in early 2014. The two are a good match in that Les Mills is currently a frontrunner in branded studio fitness classes, something which Reebok has long been associated with, since it cemented its status as an iconic sportswear brand during the aerobics craze of the 1980s. In joining forces with Les Mills, Reebok has instant access to its ideal consumer group – those who are already active and regularly need to update their sportswear wardrobe.

Prior to the Les Mills link up, Reebok also joined forces with strength and conditioning group workout regime CrossFit and put its name to the Spartan brand of adventure obstacle races. Reebok will soon release a shoe designed specifically for adventure races. Both exercise trends are still very much on the up in North America and Western Europe, meaning increased exposure for Reebok.

… Prompting a Change of Brand Direction

These recent tie-ups reflect a change in focus for Reebok, a change accompanied by a new-look logo. Instead of focusing on elite athletes, a tried and tested tactic of all of the major sports apparel brands, Reebok has shifted its attention towards the everyday exerciser. Given that the more people Reebok can convince to take up exercise, the larger the market for its clothing, the thinking behind the move certainly makes sense. After all, consumer inactivity is not just a problem for public health bodies; it is also a problem for performance sportswear manufacturers. With Reebok firmly nailing its flag to the mast with regard to its future direction and the types of activity it is targeting, which other sports and activities could offer opportunities for sportswear manufacturers to capitalise on?

Team Sports Fall Out of Favour, while Running Continues to Make Strides

In North America, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s (SFIA) report for 2013 found that several major team sports such as baseball, basketball, football and soccer suffered declines in participation of between 3% and 5% during the year. While the market for apparel and equipment for these traditional team sports remains huge in both North America and Western Europe and should not be overlooked, the falling participation numbers perhaps reflect that there is more choice than ever in terms of sports and exercise options.

According to the SFIA report, ‘fitness sports’ are leading the way, with the largest overall percentage increase in 2013, suggesting Reebok has chosen its focus wisely. Meanwhile, the most recent National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) study published in 2013 reported similar findings in the US. The NSGA reported that all categories of fitness sports increased in terms of participants by an average of 5%. Aerobic exercising and yoga both saw 6% growth in participants. Running and jogging also both continued to gain in popularity, a more established trend, which was instigated by the recession, prompting consumers to look for cheaper exercise options.

In the UK, Sport England recently identified swimming as England’s most popular sport, followed by athletics, cycling and football. The number of weekly cyclists is over two million, while football is part of the weekly routine for more than 1.8 million people. Boxing and table tennis – although much smaller in terms of numbers – are growing at a pace in terms of popularity and could provide an opportunity for sportswear manufacturers to broaden their ranges.

More Women Take Up Exercise

According to the NGSA report, much of the participation growth in the US in 2013 was driven by girls and women, with 40 of the 47 sports/activities having increased female participation, compared to only 11 showing increased male participation. More in the way of women’s sportswear – that considers both fashion and functionality – would certainly seem like a good move for sports apparel manufacturers, big and small alike. Nike and adidas – both always at the forefront of combining fashion and fitness trends – have already proven frontrunners in this respect. In recent months, both brands’ women’s fitness gear has become noticeably brighter and more fashion focused, featuring designs and patterns that would not look out of place on the catwalk.

While major sporting events in 2014 including the Football World Cup in Brazil and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow will almost certainly generate a spike in interest in their respective sports, for all sportswear manufacturers, the real gains to be had in the years ahead will come from tapping into the as yet up-and-coming sport and fitness trends that are getting consumers off their couches and exercising. Simply manufacturing sportswear and sponsoring athletes is no longer enough. The brands most likely to find success will be those that reach out to consumers, encouraging and supporting them to get active, and, at the same time, providing them with just the clothing they need to do it.

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