Last week, Boston-based Reebok unveiled the first fruits of its new sponsorship gig with the UFC, debuting the fight kits that top athletes will be wearing in the octagon. It marked the latest development in a five-year mission to re-establish Reebok as a go-to brand in the fitness category — a mission that started with its partnership with CrossFit and has grown to include deals with Spartan Races, the UFC and the New Zealand-based Les Mills fitness company.
FN sat down with Reebok President Matt O’Toole at the event to find out more about this foray into fight competition and the status of its goal to be the No. 1 name in fitness.
How is the UFC partnership going so far?
We want to make sure the gear is right for the fighters, so the process has been very iterative, working with the fighters. Before the deal, we had some serious UFC fans at our company, but now we all understand the sport. We understand how the fighters move, how they grapple. The next step is to see how [the merchandise] commercializes with fans, with this sport now having its own identity like other sports do.
Are you a serious UFC fan now?
I’m actually a very serious CrossFitter. I love CrossFit, but I have become a UFC fan as well.
Would you ever get in the ring?
No, no. But we have several people at our company who are really into the sport, and some are amateur boxers.
Is it different working with the UFC versus other major leagues?
It’s funny, I was just saying this to [UFC President] Dana White: I find that the athletes in this sport are so down to earth. Most of them have had to work their way up a pretty tough ladder to get to the UFC, so they know a lot about humility and suffering. The people involved, especially the athletes, are really special people.
You’ve said that your goal is for Reebok to be the No. 1 fitness brand. Where are you in that process?
Most of the [fitness activities we’re targeting] haven’t had a brand making the gear for them, whether it’s CrossFit or obstacle-course racing with our Spartan partnership or now with combat training and also our Les Mills partnership. What we’re seeing is that what we call the Fit Gens — the consumer who’s typically in their 20s whose entertainment is working out — they’re responding to our version of fitness, which is much more challenging but also much more social. I’d say that where we are is where we’d hoped to be when we started on this journey. We’re making a lot of progress, and we’ve been fortunate to choose the right partners.
Are you seeing that resonate in terms of sales?
In our apparel business, we’ve seen dramatic improvements in our sales around the world. And we’ve been able to open more than 1,000 retail stores with our new FitHub concept. In New York, we have one in Union Square and one on the Upper West Side. That has been a game-changer for us in terms of expressing the brand.
What other areas are doing well for you?
We’re really happy with the relaunch of our Pump technology. We dropped first with a traditional running shoe, but you’ll see a lot of other training products from the brand as well. We see this having a lot of applications in terms of fit and function.
Any particular challenges you’re grappling with?
One of the biggest challenges for Reebok historically has been where to put its resources, because the sports playing field is so big, with so many different markets. What we’ve been enjoying lately is a clarity about fitness and tough fitness, and it’s made everything a lot easier as we move forward.