From Under Armour to Reebok to NOBULL and GORUCK: A Quick History of Notable CrossFit Games Sponsors
On Thursday, CrossFit LLC announced GORUCK as the Official Apparel and Footwear Provider of CrossFit and the CrossFit Games.
While this may come as a surprise to many—considering GORUCK is arguably only a moderately recognized brand in the CrossFit community best known for its tactical gear and rucking equipment—when we look at the history of CrossFit Games sponsors, surprise has been at the forefront since the beginning.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
2010: The “CrossFit Has Arrived” Moment
I arrived at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA (now the StubHub Center), ready to compete with my CrossFit Vancouver team at the CrossFit Games. The venue had been invaded by Under Armour banners and flags.
They were everywhere.
New to the sport, I figured Under Armour had always been a sponsor of the CrossFit Games and that the Games had always looked so legit. But to those who had competed in the earlier Games in Aromas between 2007 and 2009, the Under Armour presence in 2010 was quite a milestone.
The presence of a well-known brand like Under Armour symbolized serious growth from the earliest days when “anyone who wanted to could just show up and compete,” remembers CrossFit pioneer Chris Spealler, who competed at the first Games in 2007.
By 2009, there were “low-key sponsors” on the ranch in Aromas, 2008 Games champion Jason Khalipa told Morning Chalk Up, but this “definitely escalated” in 2010 when the Games moved to the Home Depot Center.
With legitimate sponsors, the prize money also jumped significantly in 2010. That year, the winning man and woman each took home $25,000, up from $500, $1,500, and $5,000 in 2007, 2008, and 2009 respectively.
Little did the CrossFit community know, this was only the start.
2011-2020: The Reebok Era
The community was in for an even bigger surprise in 2011 when Reebok, one of the oldest and most well-known apparel and shoe companies in the world, signed a 10-year deal with
CrossFit. This deal included being the title sponsor of the CrossFit Games for the next decade and having exclusive rights to use the CrossFit trademark to produce CrossFit apparel and shoes.
How this played out: If you walked into any affiliate between 2011 and 2020, you were likely to see Reebok Nanos on the large majority of folks working out.
The big assumption was that having Reebok on board was sure to help CrossFit become mainstream.
Growth: Between the summers of 2011 and 2014, the number of CrossFit affiliates in the world jumped from 3,000 to 10,000 and hit 15,000 by 2018. Suddenly, it seemed everyone had heard of CrossFit and wanted to try it. Should all the credit be given to Reebok? Maybe not, but having that brand and money connected to CrossFit certainly didn’t hurt.
Worth noting: The 2011 deal with Reebok also saw the prize money jump from $25,000 for the winners of the Games in 2010 to $250,000 in 2011 (and a total prize purse of $1 million). The prize purse continued to increase over the next nine years that followed, but to a considerably lesser degree than it did from 2010 to 2011 when Reebok came on board.
Enter 2020: Just as its 10-year partnership was coming to an end, Reebok canceled any future negotiations with CrossFit after CrossFit founder Greg Glassman’s infamous tweet that led to his eventual resignation.
That being said, CrossFit and Reebok’s troubles started long before Glassman’s tweet.
- In 2018, CrossFit took Reebok to court, purporting a breach of contract over an estimated $4.8 million in missed royalty payments. The legal dispute ended when CrossFit settled for an undisclosed sum of money.
2021-2023: The NOBULL Era
By 2020, many in the CrossFit community were used to Reebok’s presence and were surprised, once again, to hear that the next title sponsor of the CrossFit Games would be a much smaller start-up company.
In March 2021, CrossFit announced NOBULL as the title sponsor of the CrossFit Games and the Official Footwear and Apparel Sponsor for CrossFit for a minimum of three years.
The NOBULL era continued to see the prize purse increase at the Games. In 2021, CrossFit had the biggest prize purse in Games history, while 2023 saw the payout to the champions increase to $315,000.
One big thing: Although the deal with NOBULL, like the Reebok deal, granted the exclusive rights to use the CrossFit trademark to produce apparel and shoes, 2021 to 2023 was a new era.
- Unlike in 2011, there were tons more apparel and shoe options designed for CrossFit athletes, regardless of whether or not the name CrossFit was used in the company’s branding. NOBULL soon found itself competing with not only large brands like Reebok and Nike, but also with Inov-8, and new-to-the-shoe-game companies like the longtime swim brand TYR and British shoe company RAD.
- Further, unlike between 2014 and 2018, when CrossFit Games athletes were required to wear Reebok shoes at the CrossFit Games, there were no shoe restrictions during the NOBULL era, so NOBULL shoes arguably never seemed to gain the same market share as Reebok did between 2011 and 2018.
The bottom line was, when it came to apparel and shoes, being the title sponsor of the CrossFit Games didn’t seem to help NOBULL take over the CrossFit space the way Reebok did in 2011.
2024: A New Era With GORUCK
GORUCK is the new Official Apparel and Footwear Provider of the 2024 CrossFit Games season and CrossFit’s “most important partner,” CrossFit CEO Don Faul said. But it is not the title sponsor of the Games, nor will there be a title sponsor in 2024.
CrossFit assured Morning Chalk Up that athletes and spectators can expect GORUCK to have a similar influence, shaping the look and feel of the spectator and athlete experience as the two previous title sponsors Reebok and NOBULL. Still, it’s hard not to see a lack of a title sponsor as a big change from the way things have been in the last 14 years.
And while GORUCK isn’t brand new to CrossFit—their equipment has been used at CrossFit competitions in recent years, namely during the Ruck Run test in 2019 and most recently during the 2023 Semifinals Test 2—Thursday’s announcement has to come as at least somewhat of a surprise to the average CrossFit fan, who is left to wonder what GORUCK will bring to the sport and the overall community in the next three years.
Then again, we should be used to surprises by now.