One anecdote from SportsOneSource analyst Matt Powell‘s weekend-released August 2012 athletic footwear industry sales report particularly stood out.
Socks continued to be hot with sales up more than 40%. Nike (44% share, up 1000 basis points) socks are up nearly double as they ride the Elite cycle. Adidas and Under Armour socks both grew about 25% and Jordan grew about 40%.
Socks are a hot commodity. Let’s repeat that. Socks are a hot commodity. Socks! The extremely utilitarian, highly disposable, you only get to show them off in shorts or by lifting your jeans up things you put on your feet. Mind you, we’re talking about the $14 a pair sports branded jobs, not the 10 pack of white Gold Toes from JC Penney. Even so, socks. Socks!
Socks have come a long way since their animal skin beginnings, progression into decorative warmth, and worldwide explosion in the early 1900s thanks to circular knitting frames. There are socks built for every sport, climate, color, length, whim and fancy imaginable, wound in cotton, nylon, polyester and Spandex, in crew, quarter, low, and no-show cuts. They’re singled, doubled, tripled, pushed down, pulled up, matched, and mismatched. They tag along everywhere we go and have to be comfortable when we’re standing in line at the movies, going on a walking tour of Williamsburg, and sprinting the court in midnight pick-up hoops.
As sports innovation has grown more sophisticated in the last 25 years, so too has sock technology. Today’s sports stockings do wonderful things. Nike’s Elite series features Dri-FIT moisture removal, footstrike cush with placed pressure patterns, and arch support. adidas’ Team Speed line keeps feet breezy and supported with Climalite and Formotion. Then there’s Under Armour’s Rival booties with ArmourFit zones for a more tailored approach.
They also have athlete endorsement and prints teeming with funk. Remember DeMar, JaVale, Blake and Serge maxing out on Nike Digi Fades? The Elite 2.0 USA sock collection launched for the 2012 Olympic team sold out in a flash earlier this year. So did Robert Griffin III’s adidas “Go Catch Your Dream” Team Speed Crews. You saw the Team Speeds all over 2012 March Madness teams like Baylor. And Jordan Brand has been making socks look like Air Jordans. These things not only have to pull through in the clutch, they have to look amazing, too.
So we know we like socks to be comfortable, to perform in ways we don’t understand but fully approve of, and have the cachet only dominant pro athletes can lend. But how is this enough to cause runs on inventory across the sports brand spectrum? Powell says it’s Nike’s doing.
“Biggest factor is the popularity of the Nike Elite sock,” Powell told CounterKicks. “Seems every kid has to have a pair. I see them everywhere. Nike’s market share in socks for the year so far is 38.3%, up from 26.5% for the same period last year.”
See what you did, Nike? Socks!