Biggest Athletic Stories of 2020 

The athletic market was responsible for many of the headlines produced in 2020.

For instance, before COVID-19 shut all activity down stateside, the sports world mourned the loss of an icon in Kobe Bryant in January. Also, Reebok was forced to make a tough decision regarding its deal with CrossFit in June after its CEO, Greg Glassman, made an insensitive remark about the late George Floyd on Twitter.

However, not all was doom and gloom. For example, Nike worked to ensure health-care workers battling the challenges of the coronavirus had comfortable and functional shoes on free of charge. And both Michael Jordan and Jordan Brand revealed a plan to donate $100 million over the next 10 years to organizations that promote racial equality, social justice and greater access to education.

Below, read on for some of the athletic market stories you were most interested in this year.

Sneaker World Reacts to NBA Icon Kobe Bryant’s Death

News of the death of NBA icon Kobe Bryant, as well as his daughter Gianna, after a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., on Jan. 26 shook the world of sports, with his devoted fans sharing messages of what the baller meant to them. His longtime sneaker endorser, Nike, issued the following statement: “Along with millions of athletes and fans throughout the world, we are devastated by today’s tragic news. We extend our deepest sympathies to those closest to Kobe, especially his family and friends. He was one of the greatest athletes of his generation and has had an immeasurable impact on the world of sport and the community of basketball. He was a beloved member of the Nike family. We will miss him greatly. Mamba forever.”

Reebok Ends Partnership With CrossFit After Insensitive George Floyd Twitter Comment

In June, after CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman made an insensitive remark about George Floyd on Twitter yesterday evening, Reebok told FN that it had ended its partnership with the organization. “Our partnership with CrossFit HQ comes to an end later this year. Recently, we have been in discussions regarding a new agreement, however, in light of recent events, we have made the decision to end our partnership with CrossFit HQ,” Reebok said in a statement emailed to FN. “We will fulfill our remaining contractual obligations in 2020. We owe this to the CrossFit Games competitors, fans and the community.”

CrossFit Games Champion Katrin Davíðsdóttir on 2020 Competition: “I Am Out”

Two-time CrossFit Games champion Katrin Davíðsdóttir, displeased with the organization’s corporate culture, announced via Instagram on June 12 that she will not compete in the 2020 CrossFit Games. “My moral compass and values I stand for make it an easy decision for me to make: I am out. The only way I see forward is for a blank slate. [Former CrossFit CEO] Greg [Glassman] and those who stood by while this happened cannot be a part of CF,” Davíðsdóttir wrote in a statement on Instagram.

Shortly after Davíðsdóttir announced that she will not compete in the 2020 CrossFit Games, more notable athletes who compete in the sport revealed they will also sit this competition out. Other famed CrossFitters who said “I Am Out” include Amanda BarnhartCole Sager and fellow Nobull athlete Brooke Wells.

Adidas Creative Director Out After Calling Accused Wisconsin Protestor Shooter Kyle Rittenhouse a “Victim” on Instagram

Adidas revealed in August that global creative director Paul Gaudio was let go days after he took to Instagram to refer to 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse — who is accused of shooting protestors in Kenosha, Wis. — as “also a victim.” Complex shared an image on social media outlining the charges Rittenhouse is facing, and Gaudio  — @neckbelly on Instagram — was one of the people who commented. “He is also a victim here. He’s a kid, who raised him? Who taught him? Who gave him a gun? Not excusing him by any means… but the adults who radicalized him and enabled him should be punished,” Gaudio wrote. On Aug. 29, Adidas told FN that Gaudio was no longer employed by the brand.

Uprising at Adidas: Black Employees Form a Coalition to Pressure Top Management For Change

In early June, a group of Black employees at Adidas North America — which would grow to include people at the brand’s global headquarters in Germany — united to form a coalition aimed at yielding swift and permanent change in how the organization supports its Black team members and community at-large — with an added emphasis on pushing the brand’s top management in Herzogenaurach to drive the organizational reset.

FN learned on June 5 that the group delivered to Adidas North America management, including president Zion Armstrong, a 32-page deck, dubbed “Our State of Emergency.” In addition to claims that management “doesn’t grasp the discrimination minorities might face” and that “the difference in perception is largest in Germany,” the document lists four major “asks.” The coalition wants the company to: invest in its Black employees; invest in the Black community; invest in the fight for racial justice and change for Black people; and demonstrate accountability.

That day, Adidas responded via statement. “We’re listening. We recognize that we have not done enough, and we are dedicated to doing more,” the company said. “We are close to finalizing our commitments to ensure our people, most importantly our Black employees, are heard, supported and involved in solutions. We are working very closely with our employee resource group Progressive Soles and a coalition of Black leaders, and we are united in making progress. Together we’re establishing quantifiable goals focused on immediate action and long-term impact, internally and externally. We will hold ourselves accountable for change. We firmly believe that together is the only way to move forward.”

Michael Jordan and Jordan Brand Announce First Organizations to Receive Funds From the $100M Racial Equality Donation

On June 5, hours after Nike Inc. announced it was investing $40 million to support Black communities in the U.S., Michael Jordan and Jordan Brand revealed an additional commitment to the cause. The basketball icon and his namesake label revealed a plan to donate $100 million over the next 10 years to organizations that promote racial equality, social justice and greater access to education.

On July 29, they announced the first three partners that will receive donations. In a statement, the retired athlete and the company said the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. will receive $1 million; Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People and Families Movement will receive $1 million; and Black Voters Matter will receive $500,000.

Exclusive: Reebok Responds to UFC Fighter Sean O’Malley’s $3,000 Royalties Claim

Sean O’Malley, one of the UFC’s fastest rising stars, revealed his disdain with the money he said he makes off of his merchandise that Reebok produces in June on an episode of “Food Truck Diaries” with Brendan Schaub. The fighter said that Reebok makes millions of dollars off of his gear and he only makes thousands. In an email sent to FN, Reebok responded to O’Malley’s royalties claims. “Royalties paid out on sales of co-branded UFC and Reebok merchandise are dictated by the contract between the individual fighter and the UFC,” the brand told FN.

The Rock Wears Sneakers From an Unexpected Brand During a Super Bowl 54 Promo Ad

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has several collections with Under Armour via his Project Rock venture. However, the musclebound celebrity wore sneakers from an unexpected label — the Cloud X style from Swiss running brand On — in the Super Bowl 54 promo video in February.

After Much Speculation, Adidas Confirms It’s Entertaining a Reebok Sale

Adidas AG appeared to confirm on Dec. 14 the chatter that it was looking to potentially sell Reebok. “As part of the development of its new five-year strategy, Adidas has begun to assess strategic alternatives for Reebok. These strategic alternatives include both a potential sale of Reebok as well as Reebok remaining a part of the company,” Adidas wrote in a statement. The company said a decision on Reebok is expected to be announced on March 10, 2021. This is the date when Adidas will present its new five-year strategy.

Two weeks after the Adidas statement, reports surfaced that Reebok may have a pair of high-profile entrepreneurs interested in purchasing the brand: Percy “Master P” Miller and Baron Davis.

Speculation that Adidas was interested in moving on from Reebok started in October, when a Bloomberg report stated the German sportswear powerhouse was interested in selling the heritage athletic brand, and that an internal review was in its early stages. Also, Germany’s Manager Magazin reported Adidas planned to complete the sale by March 2021 and that companies interested in acquiring Reebok included VF Corp. in the U.S. and China-based Anta International Group Holdings Ltd.

In November, a New York Times report stated Adidas was working with investment bank JPMorgan Chase & Co. to sell Reebok in a transaction that could happen as early as next year. In the report, the publication estimated that Reebok could sell for roughly $1 billion, which is far less than the $3.8 billion Adidas paid for the brand in 2005.

Running Shoe Sales Grow for 5 Weeks Straight — Here Are the Brands Leading the Way

With gyms closed and people forced to spend more time at home, running became the go-to outlet to stay fit. And in June, brands in the performance running shoe business started to experience the benefits. According to data provided by The NPD Group, performance running shoe sales have been on the rise since mid May, and sales increased 30% year-over-year in the week ending June 20. This mark, NPD stated, is the highest sales gain in any given week this year.

Nike, Adidas + Other Athletic Players Take Big Hit as Sneaker Sales Decline 75%

Athletic sales in the U.S. continued to decline dramatically in April as store closures hit the big brands hard. Matt Powell, NPD Group Inc.’s senior sports industry adviser, said in a note that for the week ended April 4, sales dropped about 75% compared with the same period last year. The data mirrors Powell’s findings from the week prior, which revealed that sales declined 76% in the fourth week of March. In his April 10 analysis, Powell said Nike footwear sales were down about 75% for the last week of March, and there were similar declines for Adidas, Vans and New Balance. Sales for companies including Jordan Brand, Under Armour, Converse and Skechers took hits of more than 80%. The label that fared best, although still experiencing a drop in sales, was Brooks, with a decline of roughly 55%.

Attention Health-Care Workers, Nike Is Giving Away Its Entire Inventory of Air Zoom Pulse Sneakers to You

Nike Inc. leaned in to its mission to be a purpose-driven brand in May, announcing its plan to donate 32,500 pairs of Air Zoom Pulse sneakers as well as other product, totaling more than $5.5 million in value, to health-care workers in the hardest-hit global cities. “What we’re donating now is our current inventory of the Air Zoom pulse all across the U.S. and Europe,” said Jorge Casimiro, Nike’s chief social and community impact officer. “When we can come to a decision like this one, it’s really a cross-functional [effort] across Nike that this is the most authentic expression of what we can continue to do around COVID-19.”

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