NEW YORK: Nike and adidas have both achieved "genius" status for their digital marketing activities, leaving them well ahead of other sports brands in this area, new research suggests.

L2, the specialist think tank, assessed 42 major sports brands based on the quality of their websites, marketing, social media presence and related initiatives across mobile phones and tablets.

Nike recorded 148 points on this metric, beating adidas on 142 points. They were the only brands to attain a "genius" rating, meaning their output had yielded genuine differentiation in the market.

A further 11 members of the list were described as "gifted", and therefore on the way to reaching such a goal. This group was led by North Face on 130 points, followed by Puma on 128 points.

Making up the top ten were LL Bean on 123 points, Under Armour on 122 points, New Balance on 120 points, Quiksilver on 118 points, Reebok on 116 points and Lacoste on 115 points.

Among the 13 operators falling into the "average" category, and thus scoring in the 90 to 109 points range, were Timberland, Skechers and Speedo. K-Swiss, Asics and Mizuno were three of the ten "challenged" brands on between 70 and 89 points.

The six "feeble" brands receiving less than 70 points, and failing to effectively exploit this medium, were Arc'teryx, Marmot, Vibram FiveFingers, Fila, Danskin and Skins, the analysis added.

"As traditional retail growth rates stay flat, a sportswear brand's ability to maintain growth in margins is increasingly dependent upon its ecommerce and digital marketing skills," the study said.

"The biggest brands are now in an arms race to establish greater custody of their consumers via mobile and social media platforms, bypassing the retailer and traditional media properties to establish direct relationships."

Currently, Google's search engine delivers 67% of traffic flowing to brand sites from another platform, a total reaching just 10% for Facebook, and 3% for Amazon and alternative ecommerce sites.

Turning to social media, many players had moved beyond solely using Facebook and Twitter, with 69% leveraging Pinterest and 67% utilising Instagram. Google+ logged 64% here and Tumblr posted 33%.

Overall, 74% of the featured brands had a mobile site and 64% offered an iPhone app. A more modest 26% had created similar tools for the iPad, falling to 24% when discussing devices powered by Google Android.

Data sourced from L2; additional content by Warc staff