by Brendan Dunne
While Nike footwear was banned for competitors at this weekend's 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games, the brand still managed to make its presence felt around the StubHub Center arena in Carson, Calif. where the event was held.
Trucks brazenly parked just down the street from the main entrance to the arena served as mobile Nike billboards. The graphics challenged Reebok with the same "Don't ban our shoe, beat our shoe" slogan that Nike used in conjunction with the recent "Banned" colorway of the Metcon 1.
The back and forth over the CrossFit footwear category stems from Reebok's official partnership with CrossFit, which has effectively blocked Nike from labeling its Metcon 1 shoe as intended for CrossFit (the brand uses the term "high intensity training" instead). It's also blocked the shoes from showing up at the CrossFit Games, where competitors must wear Reeboks.
While Reebok can't be happy about being challenged by Nike in the category, it's clearly done something right if it's earning the ire of the brand. Given the giant gap between Reebok and Nike in the current sneaker landscape, it's something of an accomplishment that Reebok has Nike calling them out. Nike execs generally won't even utter the names of rival brands, so the idea that the brand has oriented a campaign towards one of them in 2015 is pretty unique, and almost feels like an echo of the Reebok vs. Nike war waged in the '80s and early '90s.
What might not bode well for either brand is that the consumers aren't necessarily buying into the battle. Most people I spotted at this year's Reebok CrossFit Games were wearing sneakers from Reebok's Nano line of CrossFit shoes, with the Nike Metcon 1 close behind in terms of popularity. The "Banned" Metcon 1 was a prevalent style, but people wearing the shoes didn't seem to be doing so in an act of allegiance to Nike. Most of the people at the games said that they didn't care about any hostility between the brands.
"I think it sells a little bit more because it's controversy, but I don't care," said Crockett Ladd, a CrossFitter wearing the black and red, Michael Jordan-inspired Metcon 1s.
While those wearing Metcons weren't buying into Nike's message, some did sympathize with the athletes who had to train in one shoe only to be forced to switch to another for the CrossFit Games, which is the sport's pinnacle event.
Even Nike's athletes didn't seem entirely invested in the aggression toward Reebok. Cody Anderson, a CrossFitter sponsored by Nike who participated in the wear-testing of the Metcon 1, said he tries to stay out of the drama.
"If I was competing in the games this year I'd be totally fine with wearing Reebok clothes," Anderson said. "The only thing I think some of the athletes have a problem with, it was the same thing last year, if you've been working out in one shoe all year you get used to it. And then you have to get used to another shoe right off the bat. It makes it difficult. But I think people are a little too opinionated sometimes."
Reebok is just hitting its stride with the CrossFit deal, and is in the middle of a 10-year agreement with the fitness company that expires in 2020. Until then, Nike will have to fight to be seen in the sport – whether it's allowed or not.