Who knows? It’s likely that Nike will dismiss rumors of its potential Peloton takeover if they haven’t already. CNBC noted earlier that John Foley has “unwavering confidence” in the company’s future as a standalone company. Peloton is not the type to cede power to any external company but if they did, it would work wonderfully. Assuming the deal won’t happen, this is why it should have. This Bloomberg opinion piece was spot on:
Nike can be considered a luxury label if you look at the upper-end of its price ranges, with jackets and sneakers topping $500. That fits well with Peloton’s positioning, given its hefty price tags, with bikes starting at $1,495.
What Peloton needs more than anything is energized and engaged new users who will feel comfortable paying the full price for Peloton hardware while remaining engaged in the mobile app and virtual community that comes with it. Nike can offer this, especially now that American consumers are returning to gyms:
Nike has spent years investing in its virtual community by leaning heavily into a suite of apps that serve different customers and different needs. Its main Nike app is for straightforward shopping, Nike Run Club and Nike Training Club track workouts, and the SNKRS app is the go-to for sneaker heads closely following upcoming drops and releases. Being a Nike+ member, while free, activates a closer relationship to the retailer via product updates and exclusives. It’s easy to see how Peloton could fit into Nike’s fitness apps and propel a spin into paid memberships for Nike. The user bases of the two companies likely overlap but there are a number of cross-selling opportunities between the two. Peloton’s high-earning customers could level up Nike’s positioning as a luxury offering for those who want to buy in, while Nike’s vast reach will inject Peloton with efficient customer acquisition. It’s also easy to see why Peloton might need Nike’s assistance.
The Peloton brand isn’t what it was. In Peloton’s Diffusion, we wrote: “In diffusing its rabid base to gain as many customers as possible, it weakened the bonds between those in its core demographic.” The result of targeting mass adoption by lowering prices and increasing financing opportunities meant that the brand stands for less to its early adopters that turned the in-home cycle to one with a cultish following. It is reflected in its diminished apparel business. CNBC recently reported that it is slashing its apparel sales forecast for 2022. Still, Peloton’s product is still superior to any competitor on the market – for now. Echelon recently convinced the USPTO that Peloton’s patents for streaming and on-demand classes were not actually patentable. According to a recent Bloomberg report, there could be more to come.
The risk with Peloton’s strategy is that it could backfire if courts deem that its “revolutionary technology” isn’t so revolutionary after all. As in, what just happened with Echelon. Should this occur on a wider scale, Peloton risks finding itself out millions of dollars and without legal protections for the core of its business.
So if Peloton is losing brand equity, losing the rights to technological patents that differentiated it from competitors, and losing the battle against the resurgent interest in gyms – who better to reinvigorate interest in the product than Nike?
Nike’s been transitioning to a direct-to-consumer brand. In addition to its apps, it’s spent time investing in store concepts like House of Innovation, curtailing underperforming wholesale partnerships and tiering its products to create a fuller, richer experience for direct customers. Recent initiatives to bring Nike to Web3 have underscored the important of a DTC strategy. Nike has been busy filing trademarks for the metaverse, building a virtual Nikeland world on Roblox and it also acquired RTFKT, signaling a deeper investment in the metaverse.
As a result, Nike isn’t just an apparel company any longer. It’s a direct-to-consumer leader and a Web3 pioneer. With a Peloton deal, Nike would receive hundreds of thousands of screens to market its own products: physical, digital, and everything in between. But more importantly, it would properly position it against its foremost challenger: Lululemon/Mirror and Tonal’s continued rise in prominence.
Nike and Amazon’s pursuits of Peloton will likely end with little to show for it. Acquisition interest comes and goes. But if there was a partner suited to benefit from Peloton’s existing infrastructure, it would be Nike. In a recent deep dive into another retailer’s strategy, we explained that Nike was actually laying the groundwork for its involvement in the in-home digital fitness arena:
Nike is laying the groundwork for further expansion. The brand is currently going up against Lululemon in a patent spat over Mirror technology – demonstrating it’s fighting for ownership in a bigger Nike universe.
When Nike sued Lululemon for patent infringement over its Mirror technology in December, implications that Nike is planning its own investment in hardware and at-home fitness tech were apparent. The lawsuit accuses Lululemon of infringing patents, including exertion-level technology, user competitions and performance recordings. Whether or not Nike’s future in at-home fitness tech lies with Peloton, its aggressive move to challenge Lululemon and Mirror’s own strategy signals that Nike is at least threatened by the category’s rise encroaching on its turf.
John Foley is an independent thinker, a CEO that thrives on control and territorial leadership. It’s unlikely that he will cede any power to fitness’ top company. But if he did, it would be the most mutually beneficial relationships in business today. In Nike, Peloton receives a pipeline of new business and a reestablished footing in luxury fitness. In Peloton, Nike claims a stake what appears to be a multi-pronged approach to grow into owned physical spaces, owned digital channels, and a burgeoning Web3 space where the behaviors of IRL community and digital commerce collaborate in new ways. Even here, Peloton can help facilitate further innovation.
Peloton has shed the market cap to make this $10 billion bet one that makes sense for the $230 billion brand. In the small chance that the sides see that they share many of the same goals, Nike will be as present in the home as it is in gyms, the metaverse, and sporting arenas everywhere. And Peloton, who has increased ad placements by 46% over the previous three months would have the total addressable market that money could not buy.
By Web Smith | Edited by Hilary Milnes with art by Christina Williams and Art Remy