Nike just took a big step in its bid to corner the multibillion-dollar market for CrossFit enthusiasts, unveiling the third iteration of its popular Metcon sneaker.
Of course, Nike isn’t calling this a CrossFit shoe—legally, it can’t, since Reebok has a 10-year licensing deal with the gym brand. As CrossFit spokesman Derek Fields said in a recent e-mail: “Reebok makes the only CrossFit shoe.”
While that’s true, many fans of the budding exercise regimen haven’t gotten the message. In an admittedly small survey of CrossFit classes, some 58% of participants were wearing sneakers made by Nike Inc., roughly double the share of sporting shoes produced by Reebok International Ltd.
And Nike hasn’t been resting on its laurels. The Oregon shoe empire is a masterful troll when it comes to marketing and public relations. Time and again, it’s passed up expensive, official sponsorships to professional leagues and marquee competitions, only to cleverly advertise nearby. It didn’t bother with FIFA’s World Cup in Brazil, for example. Rather, it inked a deal to outfit the Brazilian national team and bombed YouTube with slick videos of Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo. Boom.
Its CrossFit-enthusiast strategy is similarly sneaky. Rather than get in a flexing contest with the CrossFit brand, Nike’s pitch to consumers highlights how well its new shoes will perform in certain workouts popular at the gyms. For instance, the company recommends the new Metcons for the “Murph” regimen, a sequence of 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, and 300 squats named after fallen Navy SEAL Michael Patrick Murphy. Nike’s marketing team is also trumpeting affiliations with well-known competitors Sara Sigmundsdottir, an Icelandic weightlifter, and Mat Fraser, who won the 2016 CrossFit Games.
The shoes, meanwhile, are made for climbing ropes, lifting weights, and gliding smoothly against a wall when the wearer is doing a handstand pushup—all standard fare in a CrossFit workout.
Its success in bare-bones gyms is a pleasant surprise for Nike. The company’s fortune largely rides on running and basketball. And lately, the shoemaker has been focused on expanding its apparel business while doing an end run around wholesale channels. Still, as the CrossFit craze caught on, Nike’s training revenue surged, growing by 53 percent over the past five years.
The new Nike kicks go on sale via the company’s app on Dec. 19 and will hit its web store on Jan. 6, just in time for a new wave of consumers making CrossFit resolutions.