Demand for footwear has rarely been higher, so it’s an especially competitive environment to retain loyalty amongst running shoe consumers. To start, it’s helpful to look into the primary reason why consumers are buying running shoes. 

Contrary to their name, a majority of consumers are not purchasing running shoes for running, if they even own a pair at all. Forty percent purchase running shoes because they’re comfortable, and 32% don’t have a pair of running shoes. That leaves a significant minority — 14% of respondents — who are runners or intend to start running. Gen Z and Millennial consumers are most likely to use them to run or have the intention to run, while the over 55 purchasers are overwhelmingly turning to them for comfort.

In terms of sports fandom, there are fairly significant differences between how fans of each professional league turn to running shoes. The NBA and NFL are fairly homogeneous in their purchasing habits, in the sense that consumers who follow each league closely are typically not much more likely than those who follow the sport a little, or not at all, to have running shoes for running.

MLS fans, while belonging to a much smaller subgroup of American sports fans, break significantly from trends. Of consumers who follow the MLS very or somewhat closely, 56% purchase running shoes to run or with the intention to run. This is the only such category across all three fanbases to see a plurality of consumers buying for exercise over consumers buying for comfort.

Brand Loyalty

Under a third of consumers who consider themselves “very loyal” to their favorite brands said they run or intend to start running. Those who consider themselves “not at all loyal” to brands were 40% more likely to be inclined to run.

Keeping with the majority of consumers who purchase running shoes strictly for comfort rather than running or the intention to run, the most ardent brand loyalists are largely purchasing shoes for comfort.

Running breeds more extensive wear and tear than just casual use, so the younger age brackets — already predisposed to purchasing more sneakers — will be more reliable repeat consumers. At a time when footwear demand has been surging, most every sneaker brand should be well equipped to weather any changes in favorability.

Nike Is Still Leading in Favorability

Last year, Nike posted nearly unprecedented growth as its stock climbed 36%. Experts forecast the upswing could continue into 2020, as demand for footwear surges across the board. Although Nike’s position as the leading athletic wear brand is secure, its unfavorability rating has seen a slight rise in recent years, compared to its running shoe competitors.

CivicScience asked more than 120,000 adults how favorably they view Nike shoes. Forty-nine percent of respondents view Nike shoes favorably, with 19% seeing the brand unfavorably (a number that increased recently). This gives Nike the distinction of being both the most favorable and unfavorable of the brands surveyed, with most other companies holding a majority of neutral responses.

The rise in unfavorability — between 2017 and 2018 — aligns with Nike reviving its polarizing Colin Kaepernick endorsement deal. However across that same three year period, its favorability was largely unchanged, with most change occurring between neutral and unfavorable respondents. And while the company’s stock price took a hit in the short term, Nike’s seen year-over-year growth in each of the past three years, with further projected growth in 2020.

Nike’s latest minor controversy, concerning whether or not the popular Vaporfly running sneaker would be permitted in the 2020 Olympics, hasn’t made much of an impression on consumers. The world governing body for track and field announced last month that Vaporfly shoes would be permitted in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, despite heightened restrictions and claims that the sneakers increase the speed of anyone who wears them by at least 4%. The potential for an unfair competitive advantage isn’t on many consumers’ radar at this time, with 77% responding with uncertainty or no opinion. It’s a passionate issue for a small minority, but not one likely to impact the brand’s overall favorability.

New Balance and Reebok are perhaps the most stagnant of the sneaker brands surveyed, seeing little to no change throughout the last decade. Despite stagnant numbers, New Balance still holds favorability among one-third of consumers.

Adidas and Under Armour have made gains as of late, but likely have too many indifferent consumers to make any significant dent in Nike’s support. There’s too much fluctuation, and too little interest in either brand when surveyed against one another. Among those who own sneakers, Under Armour and Adidas poll at 7% and 14%, respectively, when asked which is your favorite sneaker brand.

Although coronavirus leaves a specter of uncertainty over Nike and its competitors as 2020 progresses, analysts believe the leading footwear brand will rebound following a month of 4% loss. Adidas and Puma have seen significant losses in China sales so far this year, but it’s unclear how long the downturn might last. While it’s nearly impossible to forecast the impact of COVID-19 throughout year’s end, each of these brands — with Nike in pole position — still stand to benefit from high demand for sneakers.