Go to the gym. Load up a barbell. Pick the bar up off the ground ten times. Then jump up and down off a twenty-four inch box ten times. Follow that with ten pull-ups. Repeat the sequence as many times as you can in sixteen minutes. Congratulations, you’ve just done a CrossFit workout! To some people, it sounds like hell. To Reebok, it’s a way to invigorate a brand.
CrossFit is an exercise regimen that combines elements of gymnastics, weightlifting, and endurance sports with the goal of creating the ultimate level of cross-functional fitness, and it’s caught on like wildfire. The first CrossFit gym, called a “Box,” opened in 2000. Today, there are more than 8,000 worldwide. In 2007, CrossFit launched the “CrossFit Games.” Reebok began sponsoring the Games in 2011 and inspired the idea for an “Open,” basically a giant qualifying round open to any athlete who wanted to enter.
Reebok is constantly working to design apparel that helps athletes achieve their best possible workout, no matter what their sport, with a special emphasis on products that have the durability and functionality that Crossfit, the Spartan Races, and other demanding regimens require.
Reebok’s line of CrossFit shoes and apparel has grown along with the sport. Revenue from Reebok’s CrossFit merchandise grew by 13% in the first quarter of 2013, and sold millions in business just selling gear at regional CrossFit Games. In fact, Reebok is so committed to CrossFit that the brand opened a CrossFit Box in its corporate headquarters.
The Way I See It
- I see Reebok as the official “CrossFit gear,” much like lululemon is synonymous with yoga. I see product development continuing to be a large part of the brand’s business model, and not only a way to connect with customers, but to engage and support them.
- I see Reebok as a trendsetter in the durability-focused fitness gear. As cross-functional fitness continues to expand in popularity, brands will look to Reebok to set the benchmark.
- I see that Reebok is onto something interesting. Unlike sponsoring professional sports, and receiving endorsements from professional athletes that go along with it, Reebok is sponsoring the sports equivalent of a grassroots movement in which the fans are also the athletes.
The Way the Industry Sees It
I sat down with Chris Froio, Vice President of Fitness & Training at Reebok, to discuss how its CrossFit partnership has opened opportunities for its brand and aided in product development.
How do you see CrossFit fitting into the issue of exercise trends? Do you see this as a long lasting change or a reflection of the moment?
As far as trends are concerned, the biggest trend that is shifting is fitness enthusiast have moved away from solitary jogging, running, and weightlifting on their own to a more group focused environment. We are seeing a shift to communities, tribes, etc. and people are doing functional fitness in a CrossFit gym – or a “Box” as CrossFit calls it – with 20 to 25 people in a class. We are also seeing people do Spartan Races alongside a couple hundred people. Group studio classes are starting to grow as well, such as Spinning or SH’BAM. People are taking the idea of “I have to get the work out in,” and rather than making it a chore, we are seeing people turning workouts into a lifestyle and social thing. We see that working out with others increases motivation and helps eliminate the excuses, now you have people counting on you to come in for that class because you have formed relationships with the people in your class and your instructor.
How did Reebok decide to focus its energy on CrossFit? Was it attributed to the community-based workout trend shift that is underway?
The whole aspect of social media, social lifestyle, and the way people interact is where fitness trends are going. 4 years ago, we decided to go back to Reebok’s roots – fitness – and identify or create on our own a fitness regimen that was engaging and social. We wanted something that was more relevant than a gym full of treadmills or a weightlifting machine, and that is what spurred our relationship with CrossFit. I don’t see CrossFit as something that is going to go away. The more Reebok can make fitness engaging, the more it will inspire those who are not yet motivated.
Competing with all the other sporting constituents, how do you take a sport that was relatively unknown, and raise it to the level of success that you’ve seen with CrossFit?
A few things come into play here, having ESPN showcase the “CrossFit Games” certainly helped raise exposure for CrossFit and our relationship with CrossFit. Also, having a large brand like Reebok come in and sponsor the Games was our jumping off point that helped bring additional eyeballs to what CrossFit is. The Games then launched a big campaign that we did with CrossFit, we were able to take the movement and expose it to nearly 100 countries that we do business in. That’s when we really started to see CrossFit grow. Along the way, Reebok was building products that work for CrossFit, and we were able to advertise those to gain additional exposure. In addition, one of the biggest payoffs on making it sustainable for us was more the grassroots side such as, being at major events, talking to athletes to make the best product, going to affiliates and sponsoring and supporting their events, working with CrossFit on expanding the Games to other countries and increasing exposure.
What is the largest benefit for Reebok’s relationship with CrossFit?
Defining the brand as a fitness brand – you want to offer the consumers a place where they can be fit, but also offer consumers the equipment they need to play the sports they love. What we needed to do was to identify the most aspirational forms of fitness, CrossFit was that for us. How do we bring the excitement to fitness? The partners we have – such as CrossFit and Spartan Race – act as the aspirational focal points. The product development side is where Reebok sees the payoff. For example, our “CrossFit Nano Shoes” were specifically built with the CrossFit athletes to find out what they liked and did not like. Product development also links up with our Spartan Race partnership. These shoes are built to withstand the Spartan Race elements, so you don’t need to go out and buy new shoes after each race.
I know that Reebok has always been conscious of building apparel that supports athletes – how has your formula changed with your CrossFit partnership?
The formula and approach has not really changed, but certainly our partners have. Our formula before the CrossFit relationship took a look at professional sports. In the past, we had the NFL, NBA, and we built sports-specific products for those athletes. In the fitness space we were able to identify really good strategic partners – that have effective programing – and now we are building specific products for those. Even if you’re not doing CrossFit, our CrossFit product is great for anyone who is doing functional fitness. The payoff of functional fitness is fantastic, and we have the best product because we have developed it for what we think is the best form of functional fitness, CrossFit. Spartan Race is an example as well. It’s both having a unique point of view on what cool fitness is, what people want to do, and building products that live up to the technical and the “fashion-ability” factor of being associated with the sport. Major league sports – with the exception of maybe European soccer – appeals to millions; fitness appeals to billions.
Is the model in your mind to continue doing what you’re doing as it relates to further roll-outs of CrossFit as a part of it, but then also taking that model and applying it to other programs – such as Spartan Races, etc? Is Reebok taking the concept of community, non-traditional, and appeal to the masses to develop products to fit the “cool-athletic brand?”
The formula we have with CrossFit is our priority. That is our biggest partnership, where we have the most invested – such as the Boxes and title sponsorship of the Games – and it drives almost all of our apparel range. That is definitely where our key focus will remain, but that formula of appealing to those who do things such as obstacle running, etc. is where we will continue to replicate the formula across all of our different businesses. The second part of the formula is placing emphasis on the fitness-enthusiasts rather than the “hero athletes” as fitness-enthusiasts appeal to a broader range of people.
What is the coolest object in your office?
I would have to say the pictures of my family however; my team might disagree with me on that, and say the refrigerator full of beer.