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Author: Channing Ray

"No one holds all the cards at any given time, that's what makes the games so fun"

-Paul Fireman

How Competitive Branding Birthed Two Giants: Rival Brands (Part 1)

Nike Vs. Reebok

The Origin of Two Giant Brands:

Imagine you and your siblings are running a family company, and a beef starts that would inevitably lead to your family lineage owning two of the biggest sportswear companies in the world.

Well, that's not quite how Nike or Reebok started, but that scenario is based on a true story. Want to know more? Be sure to check out Pt.2 of the Rival Brands Series.

So how did two sneaker legends get their start? Reebok is the older of the two former Rivals. 'Former' rivals, because there has been a significant shift in market share from Reebok to Adidas, Nike's biggest competitor. 


Reebok is derived from the Afrikaans name Rhebok for the antelope native to South Africa. The company was founded in 1958 by Jeff and Joe Foster brothers in England. They formerly worked for the family shoe company J.W. Foster and Sons, one of the first companies to produce what we know as 'Track Spikes' today.

In 1970 the winner of the Boston Marathon, Ron Hill, happened to be sporting a pair of Reebok's when he did. So it can be said its origins are based in the running segment of sports. However, Reebok doesn't arrive in the US market until 1979, and that's when things heat up between Nike and Reebok.


Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, in 1964, started a company (Blue Ribbon Sports) that sold what we know as Asics in America. However, it was in 1971 when the brand Nike first hit the shelves. The name is derived from the Greek Goddess of Victory. In 1974 Nike released the Waffle Race that Nike catapulted into stardom.

Rival Brands - Reebok
Rival Brands - Nike

Reebok's Reign

In the '80s, despite Nike's shoe deal with Michael Jordan, Reebok dominated the market. Thanks to a few celebrities sporting the brand, like Jane Fonda, Mick Jager, and Cybil Shepherd, Reebok went from $12.8 Million in sales in 1983 to $310 million in just two years

Reebok was able to do these types of numbers because it capitalized on the growing women's market with the help of Jane Fonda, which helped aerobics turn into a billion-dollar industry. As a result, the Freestyle became a staple in women's aerobics.

In 1986, 2 years after Nike signed Jordan, Reebok took the number 1 spot for market share in shoe sales and generated an astounding $920 million in net sales. Even so, it wasn't until the mid 90's when Nike struck a chord in women consumers with the "If you let me play" ad.

competitive branding

30 years after its birth Nike takes the Crown 

The 90's mark the beginning of a new era as Reebok's reign as King is short-lived when in '89, Nike surged from behind and replaced Reebok as the No.1 seller of athletic shoes. 

"Despite Reebok's sponsorship and licensing traction with the NFL and other major league men's sports teams, Nike was back in the lead as a top-selling brand across the boards...with Reebok doing at least 50% of their business with women, men overwhelmingly favored Nike." -Stoute.

But the war was not yet over as Dee Brown sports The 'Pump' when he wins the Slam Dunk Contest in 1991. In 1990 Nike opened its first retail store in Portland, Oregon, and in '96, Nike was able to sign another soon-to-be legend, Tiger Woods.

When Reebok released the AI I3, Nike "told Footlocker that if the retail chain didn't stop selling the I3, Nike wouldn't sell them anymore Jordans". Because Iverson was seen as the Anti-Jordan, so to speak, his impact on the Sneaker Wars is epic.

Nike Flex on footlocker

While Nike was flexing its stronghold over Footlocker, Reebok was still fighting for its market share when it collaborated with Jay-Z and 50 cents to create the S. Dot Carter collection and the G-Unit sneakers.

Both of these sneakers gained little traction. Was it more of a result of lousy shoe design rather than marketing? Because these celebrities were popping at that time. How many of your friends had a pair of G-Units or S. Dots? My point exactly.

This rival faded over the years, specifically when Adidas (The German-based company) acquired Reebok in 2005 and cemented it's position as Nike's top competitor. While Reebok dominated sales in the '80s, it's success pales compared to Nike from the '90s and beyond.

In 2020 despite the pandemicNike's sales totaled a whopping $37 Billion, while Reebok made just over $1.6 Billion.

It's safe to say that Nike won that rivalry.

A pivotal point lead by one star athlete  

Had Jordan not signed that deal during his rookie season, would he have become the legend he is today? Would Nike be the leading sportswear company today?

Nike would not be as Iconic without Jordan. However, considering the countless memorable ads and marketing campaigns Nike has produced, there is no denying it would still be a leader in the sportswear market thanks to Kennedy and Wieden.

The rivalry between Reebok and Nike pushed Nike to sign an epic deal that thrust Nike & Michael Jordan to become more than household names but staples of greatness. Therefore if any entrepreneurs or marketing agents are looking for a brand to draw inspiration from, Nike is a superb company to study. 


  • "The Extrodinary History of Nike" by Christopher McFadden - Interesting Engineering, 2019
  • "A timeline of Reebok's journey to No.1 and back down". Salpini, Cara. 2021
  • Reebok was meant to be a ‘Nike Killer’. Salpini, Cara. 2021
  • Michael Jordan and Nike celebrate 38 years together. Pat Benson. 2022
  • 26 Nike ads that shaped the brand’s history. De Luce, Ivan. 2013
  • A quick history of Reebok. Richardson,Marc. 2

Tags: competitive branding, brand competition, nike brand story, nike vs reebok, reebok vs nike, reebok brand, brand rivalry, rival brands

Content Last Updated: November 4, 2022

About the author

Channing Ray

Digital Creator
Founder of Authentic Intelligence
Productions and graduate of Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University



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