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New Survey: Nike, Under Armour Will Dominate Athletic Apparel

A new survey purports to show that Nike and Under Armour are strategically well-positioned to dominate the increasingly important athletic apparel sector.

The report, “Activewear Survey–Dominant Players Gain Ground in Shopper Preference,” was issued by the Cowen Group, as part of the new Cowen Consumer Tracking Survey. According to the survey, while athletic apparel continues to gain consumer appeal, against the grain of generally sluggish apparel sales, Nike and Adidas will likely increase their market share as “smaller brands seem to be gaining very little traction.”

Athletic apparel has become a highly prized sector of the apparel industry; the report describes it as a “rapidly growing, high margin, sub segment” that many retailers are “making an effort to penetrate.” Few seem to be able to match the momentum of Nike and Under Armour, though. Among the U.S. population, Nike “as first choice for activewear” leapt 42 percent in January 2014 from 38 percent in January 2013. Under Armour, for the same time periods, increased from 11 percent to 13 percent. Adidas’ market share decreased and Reebok managed to hold, but not extend, its ground.

The split between Nike and Under Armour within the athletic apparel market seems to be drawn along gender lines. Nike’s share of “first choice preference” among the male population increased to 44 percent in January 2014 from 38 percent in January 2013. Nike has advanced even more robustly among younger shoppers aged eighteen to thirty-four, increasing to 56 percent in January 2014 from 47 percent the same time last year. According to the study, this is especially significant since “members of this cohort are likely among the most important purchasers of athletic apparel.”

Under Armour, though, has proven particularly attractive to women, with its share of that demographic increasing to 12 percent in January 2014 from 10 percent last year. The brand has done particularly well with women aged eighteen to thirty-four, though, according to the survey, Under Armour’s success with younger shoppers does not seem to be at the expense of Nike’s sales.

The rest of the industry, as far as athletic apparel is concerned, continues to languish, according to the Cowen report. Adidas, New Balance, Athleta, and Lululemon remain far behind the two leaders. Lululemon did so poorly in the category of “favorite athletic apparel brand” that “it raises issues of statistical significance.”