Just when you thought you’d figured out which running shoes you liked best, another company has thrown their shoe in the ring. Less than two weeks ago, Under Armour announced that they will be entering the running shoe market in early 2009.
According to an article in the Baltimore Sun, Under Armour will “target a consumer who doesn’t necessarily have an allegiance to a particular brand.” Wait. There are runners who are not loyal to a particular brand? I mean, I’m sure there probably are runners who aren’t brand fanatical about their shoes, but they’re kind of like hit records by 98 Degrees, which is to say that they’re few and far between. Don’t believe me? Go into any online running forums and create a post asking what brand of shoes people prefer. The responses won’t be understated, you’ll see words like “love” and “hate” being tossed around with the occasional “would give my left arm for a pair” thrown in for good measure. After all, what does a runner need with that extra arm?
At Under Armour’s first Investor Day, president and chief executive officer, Kevin Plank told analysts “Our goal is not for people to trade one shoe for another. We believe we have a better shoe.” It’s the same kind of in your face thinking that has made the brand what it is today, but if it’s true then brand loyalty won’t matter. I frequently run in Under Armour compression shirts which keep me cool and prevent my nipples from being rubbed more than an apathetic genie’s magic lamp. I believe that they do offer a quality product and as long as their running shoes don’t go click clack then I’m sure that I’d be willing to set aside the Asics for a while and give them a try, especially if they look as great as the cross trainer pictured above.
Much of the reaction thus far has discussed this news from an investor’s point of view, whether it is a good move for Under Armour and their shareholders, but if I can be honest with you, that bores me. Who cares about Under Armour’s shareholders? I’m more interested in what this news means for us as runners (with apologies to any runners who are Under Armour shareholders).
First of all, a new company in the marketplace means increased competition. My vague recollection of college macroeconomics indicates this should lead to higher quality products and lower prices as companies strive to earn our business. By way of example, when Under Armour announced that they would be introducing their cross trainers, Nike responded with the SPARQ, a cross trainer that was available a month earlier at a price that was $10 – $20 cheaper.
Another benefit of having Under Armour in the running shoe business is the extensive research department that they no doubt have behind them. One more company studying running and running shoes can only help advance the technology of the shoes we sweat in.
Not only will Under Armour be bringing their research department along for the run, but presumably they’ll need to put their marketing department to work too. This means that they’ll be advertising in, and therefore supporting, the magazines we all read, sponsoring the events we all run in and with any luck donating the race shirts that we all get to take home. It also means that we can probably expect to see some new commercials from a company that’s among the best at producing inspirational commercials. Who among us hasn’t been inspired to lace ‘em up after watching a Nike or a New Balance commercial?
Finally, I’m excited about Under Armour debuting their running shoes because of the way that Pearl Izumi made their way onto the running shoe scene. They gave away free shoes to various running bloggers so that they would post reviews and generate excitement within the running community. Now if only there was some kind of comprehensive list of running blogs that Under Armour could use to start doling out free shoes…