Reebok's new fitness focus pays off
THIS year, for the first time, Reebok's name will be on the Spartan championship, the culmination of a race series that will attract some 500,000 athletes.
The sporting-goods company, a unit of adidas, signed a multi-year partnership with Spartan in January. Last month, it signed a similar deal with Les Mills, a New Zealand company that sells branded fitness-routine classes. And since 2010, it has sponsored CrossFit, a rival programme.
With a first prize of US$250,000 (S$315,000), the Spartan championship is billed as the "obstacle race from hell".
The 21km Spartan Beast event, on trails around the Killington ski resort, offers participants the option of ducking out after 5km should the course defeat them.
Reebok will start selling products developed for Spartan next year, featuring the race circuit's brand prominently, in addition to its own.
"If they introduce a Spartan Race version of the Pump, I will buy them right away," Mr Remi Moulox, who participated in a race in Toronto, said, referring to Reebok's Pump line of athletic shoes. "I've always liked the brand," said the 31-year-old recruitment consultant.
By joining with events such as the Spartan Race and the CrossFit Games - a competition that claims to find the "world's fittest man and woman" - Reebok is seeking to revive its former glory.
Since helping make step aerobics a staple in gyms around the world two decades ago, the brand has fallen on hard times.
Reebok controlled 1.8 per cent of the US$246-billion sportswear market last year, down from 2.1 per cent in 2007, according to Euromonitor International.
adidas's market share rose to 9.5 per cent from 7.8 per cent in that period, while Nike's climbed to 13.6 per cent from 11.9 per cent.
A focus on group-fitness routines tailored by personal trainers, combined with more innovative products, may help turn the tide back towards Reebok, according to Mr Andreas Inderst, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas.
Reebok is putting fewer resources into basketball and football, "and left them to adidas and Nike", he said. Group fitness "is an attractive segment in the sports market".
Reebok is already showing signs of revival, according to Mr Fabio Fazzari, an analyst at Equita SIM in Milan. The brand posted its first revenue growth in almost two years in its most recent quarter.
"Focusing on lifestyle and fitness is the right strategy as it is in the brand's DNA," Mr Fazzari said. "They still have a lot of work to do, but they are grabbing consumers' attention."
Reebok has also introduced innovations such as the ATV 19 footwear, which has a carbon-fibre grip similar to that of tyres on all-terrain vehicles and is designed to handle runs across snow, sandy beaches and tall grass.
And the brand this year announced a partnership with singer Alicia Keys, who signed a limited-edition sneaker collection.
"The next step for them to be successful is having people wear Reebok on the street because they are proud to wear the brand," said Ms Suzanne Stahlie, managing director at retail consultancy FutureBrand in Paris.