As expected, U.S. athletic footwear dollar sales declined in the mid-single digits in 2020, and units were down in the low teens. One bright spot for the year was the growth in average selling prices, as higher priced items led the way. If the decline in units can be stemmed and prices stay up, there will be nice leverage in this new year.

By wearer, both men’s and women’s athletic footwear declined in the mid-singles, while the kids market was down in the high singles.

In terms of channel, athletic footwear sales happening at premium department stores grew in the low singles for the year, while mid-tier department stores declined by almost 20%. Shoe chains fell in the low teens, and sales within the athletic specialty/sporting goods channel dropped in the low singles.

Diving into the specific categories, sport lifestyle footwear (including retro styles) declined in the low singles, outperforming the market. Brands will need to carefully manage the marketplace to keep this category steady. Walking shoes, an area that has not gotten much attention, declined in the mid-singles for full year 2020; however, the segment experienced growth in Q4. I believe this area of the market could reap the same benefits as running.

Although performance running and hiking/trekking footwear sales declined in the mid-singles for the year, both showed signs of improvement in the second half. I believe both are benefitting from a renewed interest in healthy lifestyles and the social distancing measures. On the other hand, performance basketball sales, currently representing about 3% of all athletic footwear sold, declined by nearly -25%. I expect this category to likely remain challenged.

In addition to running and hiking, a few other sports activities including golf and tennis afford the participant a way to stay fit and remain socially distant. Golf shoes surged with a low teen’s increase, while tennis shoes were essentially flat. Footwear used for scholastic sports such as baseball, football, and soccer struggled as many school systems cancelled their sport season. Skate shoes declined by about -20% driven by Vans as the brand seems to have lost some of its luster.

One interesting observation I made when analyzing the 2020 athletic footwear sales at the brand level. Brands that outperformed the market in 2019 continued to do so in 2020, although given the circumstances many of the performances were negative; brands that performed worse than the market in 2019 continued to do so under COVID-19.

Nike brand saw a low single-digit decline for the year. Jordan had a small increase in 2020, driven by a strong first half (sales up in the low teens) yet softer second half. Jordan will need to aggressively manage the marketplace. Converse saw a sharp decline.

Adidas sales were down in the mid-teens while Reebok had a low single-digit increase, after a much improved second half.

Brooks, On, and Hoka One One all performed as if there was no global crisis. Other running brands, while negative, saw improvement in second half.

Under Armour footwear declined in the low teens in 2020 overall, but again saw improvement in the latter six months. Puma footwear had an outstanding year with sales up about 20%.

The top selling athletic footwear shoes for 2020 in dollar rank order: Nike Air Force 1 Low, Nike Air Max 270, Nike Air Vapormax Plus, Nike Air Max 97, Nike Revolution 5, Nike Air Max 90, Adidas NMD R1, Nike Air Vapormax Flyknit 3, Jordan I High OG, Jordan XIII.

Turning to activewear, this market suffered a similar fate as athletic footwear, with sales down in the mid-singles for 2020. Men’s activewear declined in the mid-singles, women’s in the low singles, and kids in the high singles.

In terms of category, it was a challenging year for outerwear tops, with sales down nearly -20%. Knit shirts declined in the low teens. Pant sales dropped in the low single-digits, while shorts grew in the low singles. Sweatshirt sales for the year were up in the mid-singles. Underwear bottoms grew by more than 20%, while undershirts were up in the mid-teens and bras in the low teens. Socks were down in the mid-singles.

Looking at major brands, the aggregate of all reporting retailers’ private label brands grew in the low teens. Nike activewear dropped in the mid-singles. Under Armour was down in the low singles, but improved dramatically in the second half. Adidas apparel dropped in the low teens. Hanes sales grew by more than 25%, while Fruit of the Loom declined in the mid-singles. Puma apparel grew in the high teens, while Champion improved in the mid-singles.

As I wrote about in my 2021 sports retail outlook earlier this month, I expect the athletic footwear and activewear markets will grow sales in the low single-digits for the year – above 2020 levels, but still below 2019. Performance running and hiking will lead the footwear categories, while sweatshirts and active bottoms will lead activewear. The trend line in 2021 will be very bumpy, but pockets of growth remain intact.

Source: The NPD Group/
Retail Tracking Service