Photo credit: Johnathan Haynes

On Reebok, Nike, and the CrossFit Community

A lesson in paying attention and believing in your customers and their passions

Kevin Lavelle
Jan 22, 2015 · 6 min read

At long last, the worldwide athletic powerhouse Nike® is releasing a shoe directed at CrossFit® athletes. More to the point, Nike is finally acknowledging the power and sheer size of this incredible movement while Reebok® has spent the last four years refining their culture and perfecting their products made for the CrossFit community.

Community. It’s a word deliberately chosen to describe the world of CrossFit. Ignoring the hype and hate (more on that here), moving past CrossFit Inc. and the sponsors, ultimately what gives so much power to the “CrossFit movement” is the community itself. From former Navy SEALs and NFL starters to regular weekend warriors, even grandparents(!) and everyone in between, this is a fascinating group of people committed to bettering themselves that enjoy the camaraderie in an almost indescribable way.

Some of the CrossFit Big D family at the All Cities Open with our fearless leader, Chase Ingraham.

As CrossFit continues to explode in popularity, many things are changing quickly. With only a few thousand boxes around the world even a few years ago, there are now over 11,000 affiliate gyms worldwide.

Signups to compete in the CrossFit Games from 2011–2014 were roughly 25,000, 70,000, 130,000, and 209,000.

That growth trajectory for something in the real world is unseen in pretty much anything other than Uber signups.

What has made that possible?

Obviously the commitment that CrossFit Inc. has made to its principles, its coaches and training of them, and defense of true fitness are key. Additionally, ask most anyone that tries CrossFit and you’ll hear just how quickly they became totally hooked. Beyond this, the affiliate model is sheer genius if you want to empower a community to define itself and establish true staying power. There are 11,000+ small business owners (rather than franchisees) who grow their own communities as microcosms of the larger world of CrossFit.

Throughout all of this, CrossFit Inc. has never lost its way, sacrificed its principles, or allowed money to pollute its mission or practices.

Anyone who lives in this world can see its remarkable growth; however, the most visible component of CrossFit to the general public is the CrossFit Games.

Humble beginnings: the 2007 CrossFit Games.

What started in 2007 at an Aromas, California ranch as a fun competition amongst friends to test “who is the fittest among us” has turned into a global competition for the “Fittest on Earth™” televised on ESPN with a quarter million entrants and a prize purse of over $2,000,000. The 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games are set to be the biggest yet.

Reebok recognized the unparalleled commitment and passion of this community with a tremendous respect for how CrossFit Inc. ran the world of CrossFit. In late 2010, they signed a long term deal with CrossFit Inc. with the most notable component being the title sponsorship of the CrossFit Games. As a meaningful side note, the development of a true CrossFit shoe — designed to enable athletes to move seamlessly from lifting to running and climbing and jumping — began in earnest with the creation of the Nano. With the Games getting bigger and bigger and this new sponsorship, the decision was made to move it to Carson, California to the Home Depot Center (now the StubHub Center).

While it is true that this sponsorship level helped elevate the Games to new heights, a mutually beneficial relationship has been key to the continued growth of this community. Candidly (and in hindsight), Reebok had not been faring tremendously well under Adidas’ ownership given competing interests and a confused approach to sports and fitness. With a significant campaign back then called “Run Easy”, it’s fascinating to see the transformation of this company over the last few years to what is now the major sponsor behind the CrossFit Games, UFC, the Spartan Race, and even Kendrick Lamar (#ThisIsKendrick). Hats off the leadership team at Reebok for fully embracing this revolutionary change.

As Adidas’ fortunes have continued to decline, Reebok has experienced five consecutive quarters of meaningful growth with a transformation of culture that is visibile throughout their great product lineup, advertising campaigns, social media presence, and most importantly, customer perception.

From an outsider’s perspective, it’s hard to ignore the effect that the partnership Reebok forged with CrossFit on nearly every aspect of their company, culture, and products.

Photo Credit: CrossFit Games

While some may argue who benefited more (CrossFit from the sponsorship dollars or Reebok from the influence of CrossFit), a few things are clear: things are only looking up for both entities. Reebok’s sponsorship of the Games have helped elevate this event (and the Sport of Fitness™) to unimaginable heights for those that competed in the dirt hills of Aromas. CrossFit, and the community, have pushed Reebok to be constantly better and sincere in their efforts. Reebok has listened to the community and taken CrossFit Inc.’s culture to heart. The results can’t be denied — from the phenomenal products (my Nano 4.0's are the best athletic shoe I’ve ever worn) to the financial results the company is experiencing.

That’s all well and good, so what about Nike? Nike has all but ignored the CrossFit community, until now. Their “cross-training” shoe, the Metcon 1, arrives shortly. Understandably, the CrossFit community is excited. Nike is the biggest athletic company in the world. Until Kevin Plank took them head on for Kevin Durant’s shoe deal, it could be argued they haven’t really been challenged on pretty much anything. Their entrance into the world of CrossFit will undoubtedly add feelings of legitimacy for many (to those that need it — certainly not for anyone at CrossFit Inc.).

Nike’s presence will be a benefit for all parties: the community, CrossFit Inc., athletes, and yes, even Reebok.

CrossFit loves competition. It thrives on it. It’s built on it. There are no “territories” given to affiliate owners. If you want to build a box next to someone else’s, go for it. Build the best gym, and people will come to yours instead. Competition makes everyone better.

At Mizzen+Main, we’re thrilled that more companies are starting to recognize the infusion of advanced performance fabrics in traditional menswear. We’ve been preaching this gospel for three years. I’m glad to have some competition, big and small. We’ll be better for it, and the overall size of the pie will only grow.

Influenced by CrossFit, I’d imagine Reebok is smiling at Nike’s late entrance, confident in what they’ve built so far and the relationships they’ve built within the community. They’ll push themselves even harder with this new entrant competitor. Competition makes everyone better.

Reebok has spent the last four years developing an absolutely superior shoe in the Nano 4.0's, going through four rounds of major product development and redesign.

Nike is stepping in and throwing out their best first effort based on what they believe this community wants while Reebok has been getting direct feedback from the world’s best athletes for years. Nike decided for several years that paying attention to CrossFit customers was not worth their time or dollars. It will undoubtedly be interesting to see how things unfold over the next few years.

Reebok played their cards brilliantly, investing in and listening to the CrossFit community. I won’t be rushing out to buy the Metcon 1's, but I will be eagerly watching continued growth of everything about the CrossFit community.

Did I get it right? Did I get it wrong? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments!

    Kevin Lavelle

    Written by

    Love @lady_lavelle. @MizzenAndMain CEO & Founder.

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