It was a year of disruption for the U.S. athletic footwear market in 2021. Annual revenue grew by about 20%, versus 2020, but poor execution, supply chain delays, the end of stimulus payments, and a lack of newness in the market all hurt the business in the fourth quarter.

As I predicted, year-over-year fourth quarter (Q4) revenue grew in the mid-single digits. However, these three months posed a struggle for many of the big brands. Nike and Jordan both posted declines of about 10% and Adidas achieved only a low single-digit increase. 

For the full calendar year, men’s athletic footwear sales grew in the high teens, while women’s and kids improved by nearly 25%. Nike and Adidas both ceded share in the women’s business.

By retail channel, shoe chains led the industry with sales up by more than a third. The premium channel grew about 25%, while mid-tier/value stores and athletic specialty/sporting goods outlets were up in the mid-teens.

Looking at the major brands, Nike brand sales grew in the low teens, while Jordan rose in the mid-single digits — well off the industry pace. Together they ceded more than 300 basis points in share in 2021.

Adidas athletic footwear sales grew about 20%, passing Jordan again in revenue, to become the second-ranked athletic footwear brand for the year. Skechers sales grew by about 40% for the year, along with Brooks, Vans, and Converse. Puma and Reebok grew over 60%.

Although both brands slowed in Q4, Hoka sales doubled and On grew by over 165% for the year. My expectation is that On will surpass Hoka in revenue in 2022. Growth among running brands was helped by the fact that the performance running category had an outstanding 2021, with dollar sales for this segment up by more than 25%. The skating and hiking categories each grew at a similar rate, and the walking category improved by a third — as activity-based footwear products continue to perform well. Basketball shoes grew their sales in the high teens due to strong scholastic results. Other scholastic sport footwear categories, including soccer, also did very well. On the other hand, the more casual — or sport lifestyle — side of the market grew only in the high teens, largely due to weak performance from Nike and Jordan.

The top-selling athletic sneakers for 2021 (in revenue rank order) are as follows: Nike Air Max 270, Nike Air Force 1 ’07 Low, Nike Air Max Excee, Nike Air Max 90, Nike Revolution 5, Adidas NMD R1, Jordan I Mid, Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21, Nike Court Vision Low, and Nike Air Vapormax Plus.

Looking at the activewear market in 2021, while the sales trend slowed in Q4, growth remained strong. For the calendar year, activewear revenue grew by nearly 30%, versus 2020.

The men’s and kids’ areas of the activewear market improved by about 30% in 2021, while women’s sales grew about 25%. Nike and Under Armour ceded share in women’s activewear in 2021, and private label gained share.

In terms of major channels, both department stores and athletic specialty/sporting goods outlets grew revenues by about 30% for the year.

By brand, Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour all underperformed the market in 2021, ceding share to others, including Puma and Reebok. Hanes and Fruit of the Loom also underperformed the total market, while Champion grew by nearly half. The aggregate of all retailers’ private-label brands grew in line with the market.

Among the major categories, outerwear tops revenue grew in the low teens. Knit shirts, sweatshirts, and pants were in line with the market, and shorts outperformed. Underwear, bras, socks, and other basics all performed in line with the market.

My sports industry retail outlook for 2022 will be out next week, so stay tuned.