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Sports Footwear Rides ‘One-Off Events’ to 35% Growth

Sports footwear came out the gate running this year, with first-quarter sales up more than 35 percent year over year, according to the NPD Group. Compared to 2019, sales grew in the high teens.

Despite these positive results, Matt Powell, vice president and senior industry advisor, sports at NPD, warned that “2021 will be a challenge to predict.”

“Much of the gains were due to one-off events: the third stimulus check, late [earned income tax credit] checks, warm weather, an earlier Easter and the surge in vaccines,” Powell wrote in a blog post Wednesday. “It is quite clear that the stimulus has had a positive impact on sales. But like the prior two stimulus efforts, the gains are short-lived.”

Women’s athletic footwear saw the strongest improvement, with sales up more than 20 percent compared to 2019. Men’s grew in the mid-teens and kids’ in the low teens.

The premium channel experienced the strongest improvement by far as sales jumped more than a third versus 2019. Shoe chains improved nearly 20 percent, while athletic specialty/sporting goods saw gains in the mid-teens. Mid-tier department stores, meanwhile, grew in the low single digits.

As Powell predicted in December and January, hiking and running footwear sales have surged so far in 2021. Hiking and walking footwear climbed more than 25 percent in the first quarter compared to two years ago, NPD said. Performance running grew in the low teens.

Sports lifestyle footwear saw substantial improvement, with growth in the high teens versus two years ago. Tennis and golf footwear trends also “surged,” Powell said. As President Biden’s American Rescue Plan takes hold and employment improves, he added, work, occupational and safety footwear have improved by more than one-third.

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While other categories see significant levels of improvement, performance basketball sank in the low singles. “There is no sign this category is making a comeback, although several of the new entrants did well, against a small base,” Powell said.

Running brands like Brooks, Hoka One One and On “surged” during the first quarter, Powell said. Puma and Reebok also saw “strong growth” and Skechers, Columbia and Vans all outperformed. Nike, Jordan, Adidas, Asics and New Balance, however, underperformed the market compared to two years ago. Under Armour saw results in line with the 2019 market.

In terms of apparel, activewear sales rose 25 percent compared to 2019, according to NPD’s data, with men’s, women’s and kids’ all growing in the low to mid-20s. Sweatshirts climbed more than 40 percent versus 2019 and pants improved about 20 percent, with strong sales in sweatpants. Knit shirts grew in the mid-teens. Undershirts, performance underwear bottoms and sports bras also surged compared to two years ago, underscoring strength in comfort-focused, active-minded apparel.