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Putting your best foot forward: cleated footwear that not only looks good, it performs great.

Innovation, comfort, and performance continue to drive the cleated footwear market. Shoes are becoming more lightweight, while providing superior traction and support.

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Some companies are focusing on significantly upgrading the aesthetics and materials of its cleated footwear in order to make the products sleeker and more stylistic, all the more to provide the athlete with a competitive advantage. Others are focusing on the outsole in a number of areas: to help prevent knee injuries, offer additional stability in the arch and rear portion of the foot, and produce maximum traction.

Diadora has introduced Rotax, a bladed outsole where the cleats are shaped, and located, in a way where they reduce the stress on the knee when turning. Meanwhile, adidas offers six different outsoles that provide something different for every player.

Reebok says it is working tirelessly to provide the athlete with a perfect fit, thus the company has had a dramatic overhaul of its product lines in 2008 in an effort to reduce weight, increase breathability, and improve comfort/cushioning.

Under Armour has released the UA Raptor Low, its latest baseball-specific footwear offering. According to the company, it is designed as the ultimate weapon for the fastest players. Performance mesh and synthetic upper combine with strategic ventilation and HeatGear lining to offer the ultimate in moisture transport and breathability, says Under Armour.

Scholastic Coach & Athletic Director assembled some of the biggest players in the cleated footwear category to get to the root of what's new, what's hot, what's on the horizon, and most importantly, what the consumer can expect when it laces on a pair of cleats.

Our panel included: Raphael Peck, VP, Product Creation & Merchandising, Under Armour; Josh Rattet, Director of Cleated Performance Footwear, Reebok; Mark Clinard, Business Unit Director for US Sports (Football, Baseball, LAX, Motorsports), adidas; and Mark Wachter, Director of Footwear Development, Diadora America.

What's the current state of the cleated footwear market?

Peck: The market has changed since our entry, in 2006, as competitor brands are now beginning to focus on football cleats and the story around them. The overall market is seeing higher ASP's, cleats are retailing at full price for longer. The cleated wall is simply a more interesting place to be thanks to the consumer's apparel needs and the market's ambitions to answer the consumer's request for products that will dress them to compete. That said, cleats continue to be a highly promotional item especially since this is a product with a traditionally short season.

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Rattet: Consumers continue to expect and warrant products that provide the perfect fit and continue to show a willingness to spend additional money on better offerings. The challenge is on us to provide superior value that exceed their expectations and provide the athlete a great experience with our brand. In 2008 you will see a much broader and aggressive presence of Reebok in the marketplace, particularly at the key destinations kids buy cleats. Our team has worked tirelessly to bring product for the baseball, football, and lacrosse athlete that are innovative, stylistic, and futuristic.

Clinard: The overall market is very stable. We see consistent participation rates in the collegiate, high school, and youth segments. From a brand standpoint, there is healthy competition among brands to connect emotionally with the football athlete. Going forward, the health of the cleated footwear market will be driven by brands that deliver products that help athletes perform better and feel confident on field.

Wachter: Concerning soccer specifically, we are seeing growth at the $200 price point level on down to the $20 entry level kids' shoe. The women's specific category has had steady growth for us over the past three years.

What innovation is driving the cleated footwear market?

Peck: The market has moved towards faster silhouettes that are most clearly defined by the weight of the product. Lighter has become an obsession. Athletes believe a lighter cleat means a quicker step on the competition. Lightweight product can be great, but only with the right durability and support structures.

Clinard: Every part of a football cleat can use innovation. At the moment, adidas is focusing on three key areas in which we help athletes perform better: Lightweight, traction, and support. In 2008, adidas is offering the lightest shoe in the game--the Scorch Competition. It is 260g/under 13 oz. and the weight benefit is driven by revolutionary construction methods and our new Superfly outsole plate. For the new Reggie Bush cleat, debuting in 2008, we have added a forefoot traction zone. Reggie puts extraordinary traction demands on his cleats due to his explosive cuts and adidas has added the traction necessary to help him. For the top end Destroy cleat, the Paydirt, adidas has constructed the most supportive, lightweight cleat in the market. The TPU support panel and innovative construction in the ankle gives Destroy athletes the support and comfort needed to dominate on-field.

Wachter: Footwear is becoming lighter, more comfortable, and more responsive due to new lightweight materials being developed as well as new cushioning systems.

What has been the most dramatic change in cleated footwear over the past decade?

Peck: There are several drivers of change over the past decade. First cleat positions and shapes have changed, this is mostly in regard to answering three key issues: traction for changing surfaces, cleat pressure or dispersion, and weight of the product.

Rattet: Our overarching goal is to get kids excited about Reebok and to give them a great product and experience. We work relentlessly on every aspect of the cleat from picking industry leading materials, to making the offering feature rich with meaningful benefits, and to selecting treatments and components that make a difference. Ultimately, we want to provide the athlete with a perfect fit and everything we do is focused on this pursuit. Weight reduction, increased breathability, moisture management, increased comfort, and traction, all are primary focuses in this crusade to provide the athlete with a competitive advantage.

Clinard: The improvement in materials and construction methods that reduce weight in all types of cleated footwear. In years past, bigger athletes (what we call Destroy) had to deal with heavier cleats to meet their performance needs. Now Destroy players can have products that support them, but are substantially lighter than products from even five years ago. For the lighter, faster athletes (what we call Thrill) adidas has been able to reduce weight while still providing a stiff, but responsive feel for the athlete. The continued research invested by adidas to limit weight, but provide appropriate support, will continue to move the cleated business forward.

Wachter: Women's specific cleated footwear in soccer.

What product extensions (cleat stud length options) are being offered to give piece of mind and stability in less than perfect playing conditions?

Peck: There are several types of players out there with different needs. By designing and developing to the needs of these types of athletes, our products are fine tuned to different bodies and positions. Our focal point will be to make sure we are doing everything we can do to educate the players on what the right cleat is for them.

Rattet: We are continually looking at ways to enhance an athlete's experience and give the player an edge. Our patented MorTrac FGT cleats were engineered specifically to give players better traction. Research has proven that the cleats offer 10 percent better traction on all surfaces, both real grass and FieldTurf. We have heard from our retail partners many instances where kids who bought competitive brand's shoes were looking for these cleats to put into them.

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Clinard: adidas constantly focuses on traction. We offer six different types of outsoles: Detach, Turf, Fly, Superfly, Rubber Molded, and FieldTurf, which is exclusive to adidas. Each provides something different to the athlete. For extended length detachable studs, that is primarily an after market option for athletes/trainers.

Wachter: Bladed footwear has been responsible for enhancing grip on natural and synthetic surfaces over the usual conical shaped footwear.

What is being done to reduce the number of ACL injuries often resulting from the foot being fixed in place by cleats stuck in the ground as the upper body is rotated?

Rattet: Safety in footwear is always something that we take very seriously at Reebok. How much traction is too much? How much is too little? How differently do our cleats perform on a wet natural grass surface as opposed to a wet infill synthetic surface? These are questions that our designers, engineers, and researchers ponder regularly. Over the past two years, Reebok has worked with an independent lab to study how our cleats interact with natural grass playing surfaces. We have gathered an extensive amount of data pertaining to Rotational Traction as well as the Coefficient of Friction involving all of our current football shoes. This data will be injected into our design and development process so that we provide the best performance cleats possible.

Clinard: adidas has extensive research on the interaction between cleats and playing surfaces from seven decades of soccer and football. In recent years, we have focused on the expansion of synthetic turf fields with the ground rubber base. How molded/detach cleats interact with the rubber base and making sure that the cleats release appropriately is a major focus for us.

Wachter: Diadora's bladed outsole, Rotax, is designed in a way where they reduce the stresses on the knee when turning. The studs are located in a circular Axis which facilitates this natural turning movement. Furthermore, the bladed shape of the studs prevents the shoe from gripping excessively, thereby causing injury.

What are your company's latest product innovations in cleated footwear? What are the features and benefits of the shoes?

Peck: Under Armour continues to evolve outsole traction, injection molding, and plate flexion. These innovations, coupled with educating the player to choose the shoe that best suits their build and position, are the ingredients to Under Armour's cleated footwear line.

Rattet: We have incorporated The Kinetic Fit System in some of our cleats, which are a panel of material constructed into the upper that allows the shoe to move naturally in conjunction with your foot, which ultimately minimizes irritation. We have evolved Pump, the ultimate in customized fit and lock-down, into our first signature cleat for Vince Young. We took out close to 100 grams from our Wheels baseball cleat and our Burner Speed football shoe to rival the lightest products in the market, but without compromising the needed structural integrity.

We have included PlayDry collar liners in an effort to wick moisture out of the upper and to keep the athletes foot cool and comfortable. We have made a significant investment in new outsoles and have introduced a number of new, innovative, and lightweight plates for baseball, football, and lacrosse featuring our new two-piece technology with HardLink. Specifically, for football, the new Speed Detachable plate with HardLink is featured in the V. Young Electrify and our new metal spike outsole with HardLink is featured in The Big Papi, David Ortiz's signature cleat.

In addition, you will see these new plates prominently featured on our wide stable of MLB and NFL endorsers. These plates provide the optimal balance of comfort, flexibility, and rigidity. HardLink is a TPU arch bridge that connects the two pods of the plate and gives it the necessary support. Ultimately, the plate functions like a one-piece plate, but are significantly lighter. We also are incorporating industry-leading Ortholite sockliners which are antimicrobial, dual-density, and provide superior comfort in conjunction with these outsoles as well as Bi-Fit Insole boards.

Clinard: The three primary innovations for 2008 are the new Superfly plate (as noted above) in the Reggie Bush signature cleat, the Scorch Competition, at 9 oz., the lightest cleat in the game, and The Pro moderator support piece in the Pro Intimidate series. Taken from our running category, it provides lightweight support for the mid-foot through a TPU film. It's a true innovation for cleated footwear.

Wachter: Our new, exclusive Axeler technology propels the athlete's foot through the critical toe-off stage. Axeler is a thread like tech alloy frame located within the outsole that acts as a spring in the forefoot for toe off, and offers additional stability in the arch and rear portion of the foot due to its shape and make up. We are using this technology in all of our footwear categories--soccer, tennis, and running.
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Title Annotation:FACILITY FOCUS
Author:Newell, Kevin
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Words:2072
Previous Article:85th annual convention of the AFCA.
Next Article:Coaches' corner.
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