Sports training big business

Sports giants like Nike and Under Armour and smaller local companies want a share of the sports performance training market.

They're partnering with sports performance centers and launching shoe lines for kids engaged in the training. They're also sponsoring combines where middle- and high-school athletes – just like college stars – get evaluated for speed, vertical jump and agility.

Charlotte's Velocity Sports Performance center recently partnered with VTO Sports, a local company that organizes combines for high school football players, and camps to prepare them for combines.

Now Velocity hosts VTO camps. It has scheduled football combines at Weddington and Mallard Creek high schools, and a lacrosse combine at its center for this summer.

Nationally, Nike aligned with Velocity in March. Velocity centers host Nike-sponsored combines where athletes take a Nike-sanctioned athleticism test called SPARQ.

“We can expose athletes from multiple sports to Nike,” said Scott Henson, a Nike brand manager.

Nike is paying for marketing and apparel at the Weddington and Mallard Creek camps, and sponsored a contest at Velocity centers nationwide in early May.

The combines also let Nike push new footwear. It rolled out SPARQ cross-trainers in early spring. “With training gaining momentum, it begs Nike to get involved,” Henson said.

Under Armour introduced competing Prototype Trainers on May 3. That “comes in direct response to the needs of athletes who now train differently than ever before,” Under Armour spokesman Brian Williams wrote in an e-mail.

Nike and Under Armour have unveiled aggressive television ad campaigns for the new shoe lines and are also launching Web sites with sports performance training tutorials.

But an industry analyst questioned how much the training's popularity is driving Nike and Under Armour. According to John Shanley, of Susquehanna Financial group, both companies are trying to expand in general.

“Overall, the athletics market has not grown in a decade,” he said. “You've got to be creative in finding ways to enhance sales revenue.”