Nike, “Chinese Young Consumers Are Seeking ‘Top Product Innovation!'” How Have Six Major Sports Brands Responded?

8月 16, 2023

US sportswear giant Nike recently released its latest financial report. When discussing key growth factors, Chief Financial Officer Matthew Friend made a thought-provoking statement: “Sales of high-performance products exceed lifestyle categories. China’s young consumers are seeking top product innovation, and Generation Z is becoming the most active generation in China’s history.”

Based on the analysis of quarterly financial reports and analyst meetings for the 2023 fiscal year, “top product innovation” was mentioned for the first time in Nike’s external meetings. Previously, financial reports often mentioned “product innovation.” Similarly, adidas, Under Armour, On, as well as Chinese sportswear giants ANTA and Li-Ning, have all been continuously focusing on top products, especially footwear with higher technological requirements.

This article will use these six major sports brands’ highly representative “top innovative products” as an entry point to explore how they respond to the higher demands of young consumers.

— Nike: Born for Marathons, Customized for Eliud Kipchoge

The Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% is a top-tier running shoe specially customized by the Nike team for Kenyan marathon athlete Eliud Kipchoge, the first person in the world to complete a marathon in under two hours. The shoe features ZoomX, Nike’s lightest and most elastic foam, which significantly reduces weight. It is designed to break the performance limits of marathons and long-distance running, earning it the title of “King of Running Shoes” among many runners.

In June 2022, an upgraded version of the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT%, known as the NEXT% 2, was launched. This version focused on upgrading and refining the shoe’s structure, providing better stability and a smoother transition for runners during marathon distances.

“Alphafly NEXT% 2 is designed for athletes striving for their personal best in marathon races,” said Nike’s Running Footwear Product Manager, Elliott Heath. “Since its inception, Alphafly has been inspired by top elite runners pursuing world records. The upgrades we’ve made in the second generation will continue to serve elite athletes competing on the world stage, while also focusing on improving the racing experience for all runners aiming for their personal best.”

— adidas: Lightest Speed Football Boots Ever, Customized Sole for Chinese Consumers

In July 2023, adidas, focusing on football as its core business, introduced the new X CRAZYFAST series football shoes. The X series, born in 2015, is built for speed with lightweight synthetic ultra-fiber materials. This series includes three models: “P+”, “P1 Lace Version,” and “P1 No Lace Version.” Among them, “P+” is the lightest speed football boot ever created by adidas. This model will make its debut at the FIFA Women’s World Cup this month.

Behind the strong performance of the X CRAZYFAST series is the updated SPEEDFRAME soleplate technology. With this update, the original carbon plate is replaced by the new AEROPLATE soleplate, reducing the weight of the entire soleplate by 5 grams.

Furthermore, after extensive research on artificial turf in China, adidas introduced a customized sole for Chinese artificial turf, which is applied to the X CRAZYFAST P1 Lace Version released this time.

Mahsa Aryan, Global Category Director for adidas Football Footwear, stated, “Modern football demands speed and agility, competing for ball possession and overpowering opponents. Players must think and respond faster, without any distraction. Given the modernization of today’s football matches and the ever-changing game situation, the X series and its various aspects are particularly important.”

— Under Armour: First Top-Tier Carbon Plate Racing Shoe

In the second half of 2022, Under Armour was the first to release its top-tier carbon plate racing shoe overseas, the FLOW Velociti Elite. Not long after, Kenyan athlete Sharon Lokedi wore the FLOW Velociti Elite to participate in the 2022 New York Marathon and won the women’s championship. This was her first marathon race and also the first major marathon championship for Under Armour’s running shoes.

The FLOW Velociti Elite represents Under Armour’s cutting-edge running shoe technology. The midsole utilizes a classic sandwich structure: a full-length carbon fiber plate is placed in the middle layer, a lightweight and highly elastic PABAX foam midsole sits on top, and a new supercritical FLOW technology midsole is at the bottom, exhibiting improved rebound and cushioning performance compared to previous FLOW models.

— On: Eliminating the Traditional Speedboard for a Brand-New Midsole

It’s widely known that the core technology of On, a rising star in running shoes, is CloudTec®. Over the years, CloudTec® has evolved through several generations and iterations. In 2013, the first injection-molded, specially designed Speedboard® was introduced as an essential component of CloudTec® sole technology.

However, On’s Cloudsurfer running shoe, launched in March this year, eliminates the traditional Speedboard® and adopts a brand-new CloudTec Phase™ midsole while retaining the superfoam cushioning. On’s engineers used Finite Element Analysis (FEA) to optimize force analysis during running and determine the optimal angle, size, and combination for each Cloud element, creating a new generation CloudTec Phase™ midsole, resembling a domino.

In 2022, On’s sales surged by nearly 70%, turning losses into profits. Martin Hoffmann, Co-CEO and CFO of On, stated that innovative technologies like CloudTec Phase™ have played a crucial role in this success. In April 2023, On also held a “Wave-Making Laboratory” pop-up event at the Shenzhen Sea World Culture and Arts Center and Shanghai Xintiandi, showcasing the new Cloudsurfer running shoes.

— ANTA: Top Signature Shoe Series, Making Waves Worldwide

Basketball has always been strategically important for ANTA, serving as the first category to implement a divisional management structure within the brand. Subsequently, separate divisions were established for running, cross-training, and sportswear. Currently, basketball and running are ANTA’s core and most professionally representative categories.

Within ANTA’s entire basketball lineup, the KT series of signature shoes endorsed by NBA superstar Klay Thompson stands out. ANTA signed NBA star Klay Thompson in 2015, and since then, he has won multiple championships as a core player in the NBA. He frequently wears ANTA basketball shoes and apparel in public, gaining recognition overseas and being considered ANTA’s most successful endorsement.

In 2022, an upgraded version of the KT7, the KT7 Pro, was launched. In addition to the original nitrogen midsole, a nitrogen technology insole was added, enhancing comfort further. This shoe was priced higher than the newly released KT8 and could compete with flagship signature shoes from Nike at a price exceeding one thousand yuan.

In July of this year, ANTA signed “top-tier” basketball star Kyrie Irving and created an exclusive personal product line for him, with the Kyrie 1st Generation being highly anticipated.

— Li-Ning: Building High-Performance Running Shoes Based on Self-Developed Technology

In recent years, Li-Ning has consistently focused on upgrading footwear technology, introducing self-developed midsole and upper technologies such as “Li-Ning Beng,” “Li-Ning Coolshell,” and “Boom fiber.”

Li-Ning’s running shoes fall into two main categories: the Fast Series and the Racing Series. Among them, the Racing Series targets the professional marathon market. In September 2019, Li-Ning launched the Racing FLYTECH series, with a price exceeding 2000 yuan. This series often represents the culmination of Li-Ning’s technology and stands for its most advanced technology.

In the Berlin Marathon in September 2022, Ethiopian runner Tadu Abate wore Li-Ning FEIDIAN 3 ULTRA and reached the podium, marking the first time a Chinese running shoe stood on the podium at a major international marathon event and achieving China’s best performance in the category.

| Source: Nike Financial Reports, Conference Calls, adidas Financial Reports

| Images: Nike Official Website, adidas Official Website

| Editor: LeZhi