Brooks, New Balance and On Leaders Talk Why the Running Market Is Booming & How Women Are the Key to Maintaining Momentum

It’s no secret that running is having a major moment right now, and yesterday’s FN virtual “Leading the Revolution” CEO summit brought together some of the industry’s biggest leaders in the running market to talk why the activity is booming and how brands can use this moment to be innovative, inclusive and accessible.

During the conversation — led by FN Senior News & Features Editor, Athletic & Outdoor Peter Verry — Jim Weber, CEO of Brooks Running, Melissa Worth, SVP North America at New Balance and Britt Olsen, general manager, North America at On, discussed how the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has encouraged everyday people to take up the activity and why its been a big win for brands.

Furthermore, as the country returns to a new normal with restrictions lifting across the country, runners are also able to return to their communities, participate in races and enjoy what the sport was made to do — bring athletes together, something Weber, Worth and Olsen say brands are recognizing and working to highlight.

Below are edited excepts from the panel with Weber, Worth and Olsen.

Why the performance market is generating so much heat

Jim Weber: “People are moving. Whether it’s walking, hiking, literally waddling through the park — and of course running — we’ve seen growth and participation this last year, and it’s just been exciting. It wasn’t clear when the shutdowns happened exactly what was going to occur, but we saw within weeks that people were running. That’s what’s driving the market.”

Britt Olsen: We’re really seeing things start to heat up with people wanting to make that personal connection and get back to the fundamental reason of why people are running — and then of course product. It’s a hot market with product and people that are willing to be bold and unafraid with what they are innovating against are definitely going to win.”

How brands can maintain energy

Melissa Worth: “I think coming out of COVID, we’re all very happy to emerge from where we’ve been, and it gives us an opportunity to speak to the consumer in ways we haven’t been able to over the past year. Coming up, we have so many pivotal moments, this big grand stage at the Olympics and local, in person races starting up physically again, it gives us a lot of really good touch points to keep the momentum going. As a brand, we just launched our “Impatience Is a Virtue” campaign. It’s our largest marketing spend ever as a brand, it’s going to run through the olympics and through the back-to-school season and hopefully continue to generate the heat. We also know aside from those big brand moments, we know we need to activate at that local level, at a more personalized level, so ensuring that we’re using everything from our consumer data, to the network we have across the U.S., like local running clubs. That’s how we’re going to maintain the energy.”

JW: We think we’re going to be in a new secular running boom. It’s going to be sticky. A lot of [people] will stick with it. When events turn back on and sport comes back on and the Olympic inspires everyone around sport, we think we’re going to see an acceleration. The other thing that’s happened during this health crisis is so many people have run for themselves. I think we’re all going to learn something and take away some things about public health having gone through what we have.”

Why women are the key to winning in performance

BO: “I think there’s just such great superpower in femininity, not even tied to gender, right now. I think we see this in the world and across politics, across leadership, across community. This energy is really a force of nature on and off the track, and it’s certainly something all brands have been focused on for quite a long time. We are seeing this rise of the female runner, especially with COVID-19, habits changing, families getting outdoors, hiking, walking, running… and to reference the Speed Project, there’s only 7 people running this race solo, and 6 of the 7 are women, and its pretty remarkable to watch their progress. The man is not in first place, which is okay.”

MW: With all the new consumers that we saw coming into the brand, the majority of them were in the women. Even if she’s not making that final purchase, for her household she’s the key influencer. There’s been a lot of progress going after her over the past 10 years. We’ve worked hard to build out our athletes. We have these amazing female runners. They have the balance, they have the female lifestyle, it’s really inspirational.”

JW: “Women, without a doubt, are driving this sport. If you want to be credible, relevant and engaged with runners, you have to solve for all of them. We’re trying to speak to everyone out there, and it’s a journey in terms of how they run and how they want to run.”

Summit sponsors include presenting sponsor PayPal and event sponsors Aetrex, Caleres, FDRA, K-Swiss, Riskified, SkyPad, Sperry, Two Ten and Zappos.

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