Why the Winter Olympics Don’t Move the Needle for Shoe Sales

When the Olympics roll around, it’s no surprise to see stores stock up on themed merchandise, from Team USA-printed shirts to bags embroidered with the five-ring symbol in honor of the sporting event. Brands like Nike and Adidas have even marked the occasion by designing high-tech performance shoes specifically for athletes, with the former debuting its Flyknit technology at the 2012 Games in London.

But apart from Olympics fanatics and the athletes themselves, many U.S. based retailers have yet to see the games’ influence on consumers at large — and whether a viable selling opportunity exists.

For one, a potential catalyst for residual sales from the Olympics could be the new wave of inspiration consumers feel around getting active. However, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, that isn’t necessarily the case for winter sports.

“While the Olympics do strongly drive sports participation, the Winter Olympics are a little bit different,” said Alli Schulman, coordinator of communications and marketing at SFIA. “Since most Winter Olympic sports require a cold climate, it is more difficult for people to access those sports. This means that the participation growth for those winter sports are not immediately reflected in the participation numbers.”

In the same vein: While brand ambassadors at the Summer Games sport sneakers, trainers and even riding boots that can be worn outside of competition, winter’s footwear options such as curling shoes, snowboard boots and ski boots aren’t exactly made for everyday wear.

“None of the sports in the Winter Games feature footwear that consumers wear, so there is really no leverage point,” said Matt Powell, senior industry advisor of sports at The NPD Group, a market research firm. “Athletes that compete in the Olympics [do so] at such an elite level that the average armchair athlete does not even compare themselves.”

Not to mention — seasons aside — although the Olympics provide advertising opportunities for brands, it’s not often that the shoes worn by these athletes are available for purchase. For example, brands such as Nike design specific footwear for Olympic athletes with the purpose of helping propel them to victory — meaning marketing efforts aren’t often as direct since consumers can’t actually purchase the gold-medal-winning shoes.

Nonetheless, there is likely a general promotional benefit for brands that are involved in the widely broadcast event, according to Powell.

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