Sports Brands Create Free Workouts, More Content During Coronavirus Crisis — But Will It Pump Up Sales?

Athletic powerhouses have delivered free at-home workouts during the coronavirus crisis, helping the masses stay active and fit. Industry insiders believe these initiatives could go a long way with consumers.

Although digital sales transactions may be sparse — particularly as consumers stock up on essential items — experts believe engaging people with a fitness focus could lead to substantial brand loyalty, paying dividends well after the health crisis ends.

“If you’re a consumer that would normally go to the gym to work out, maybe you use one of these free workouts and then it puts a different perspective on the brand,” B. Riley FBR analyst Susan Anderson said. “In your mind, potentially, the next time you go to buy something you think about checking out whichever brand website you’re utilizing. And hopefully they continue to do that even when this is all over.”

Marc Beckman, CEO and founder of advertising agency DMA United, explained how these efforts are critical specifically in gaining the trust from younger consumers who typically aren’t faithful to just one brand.

“Historically, it’s no secret Gen Z and millennials have been disloyal to brands. But if a brand does something groundbreaking, a nice opportunity exists,” Beckman said. “If a brand behaves in a way right now that is groundbreaking and creates a spirit of goodwill, if they do something that is satisfying emotionally to the consumer, that traditionally disloyal consumer could connect with the brand for the long term.”

Of the brands delivering fitness-focused content, both Anderson and Beckman applauded the efforts of Nike and Lululemon during this stay-at-home time.

Nike has taken several courses of action since the coronavirus pandemic forced people indoors. It has made the programming from its Training Club premium subscription app free and has delivered inspirational “Play for inside, play for the world” messaging on social media that has been shared by its ambassadors and fans alike, among other initiatives.

For Lululemon, aside from creating free workouts on social media for people to follow, the company has encouraged its followers to journal as a form of mental stimulation to balance the physical.

What is notable about the engagement efforts of both brands is that they haven’t been overly promotional of product.

Nike and Lululemon have steered clear of adding product links, and Under Armour, another brand Beckman said has impressed him, has sparingly added what its ambassadors hosting the workouts are wearing. (The Baltimore-based company has also shared links to its fitness tracking app, MyFitnessPal, with a message encouraging people to participate in the brand’s Healthy From Home challenge.)

Although not leading with product, Beckman believes the aforementioned companies don’t need to be promotional to get a sale.

“These companies are doing a fantastic job working strategically to create this emotional connection and adding value to their consumer base, allowing the consumer to interact with their brand in an appropriate way. But behind that marketing approach is certainly a commercial approach. We need to create transactions,” Beckman said. “What’s interesting is with all three companies — Nike, Under Armour and Lululemon — all of them had a meaningful digital commerce business before this crisis hit.”

Despite the efforts, insiders are wary that this will produce meaningful sales. And early data shows athletic footwear has taken a massive hit at the register.

According to data from The NPD Group Inc., athletic footwear sales were down 65% the week ending March 21 compared to the same week last year, and all major brands saw declines. Also, despite people’s desire to run outside as gyms are closed, running shoe sales were down nearly 70%.

In an email, NPD senior athletic industry adviser Matt Powell said there is nothing in the data that indicates the current efforts of brands will have a positive impact on the market.

And Anderson agreed.

“I view the performance market as replenishment. You have to grow that consumer base utilizing those products in order to grow that market,” Anderson said. “Would you start [working out] now? Potentially, I guess, since you have nothing else to do, but maybe not; people kind of stick with their normal habits.”

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