Business Development

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Event Hosts: Get Ready for Pickleball, Flag Football and BMX

18 Apr, 2018

By: Michael Popke

Core participation in many sports may have declined slightly over the past five years, but growth in casual participation “could signal increased exposure to a variety of sports, such as grassroots baseball and basketball organizations adjusting their rules to grow in areas where they haven’t been able to get a foothold, or a bevy of new outreach programs that introduce kids to skiing and snowboarding.”

That’s the word from according the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s 2018 Sports, Fitness and Leisure Activities Topline Report, which indicates that causal participation in sports has grown 3.2 percent, on average, while core participation dropped 2 percent, on average.

“Core is what pays the bills,” SFIA president and chief executive officer Tom Cove said. “Core participants buy new technology. They’re attuned to what we’re selling in new and improved product. They’re more committed to travel for their sport, and they’re more willing to spend on equipment and other costs related to the sport. [But] casual could be good if it’s entry to market … and can grow into core. The key there [is] for our industry and the sports development universe to take those kids being exposed at a casual level and give them a pathway to becoming core players. That’s what the cutting edge of the next few years is going to be.

Every year, the SFIA releases its participation topline summary featuring data from the largest single-source sports, fitness and leisure activity participation study in the country. The association tracks participation in 120 sports, recreation and fitness activities. This time, baseball (12.9 percent), basketball (14.1 percent), field hockey (15.9 percent) and indoor soccer (13.2 percent) all saw significant one-year increases in casual participation.

Several niche sports and activities also showed strong growth — led by rugby, BMX bicycling and pickleball. “The interest in activities has started moving toward outdoor recreation,” the report stated.

Here are some highlights of the SFIA report:

  • Running/jogging made a comeback in 2017, with a 7.1 percent increase in total participation and 10.3 percent annual growth in casual participation. 

  • Boxing for competition led the individual sports category at 13 percent annual growth in 2018. 

  • Pickleball dominated the racquet category, with an 11.3 percent jump in total participation.

  • Flag football took top honors in the team sports category, with 6.1 percent total participation growth in 2017 compared to the previous year. 

“Our country will be better when more of our citizens are active and healthy — better academically, economically, militarily and socially,” Cove said. “We need to understand the motivations and barriers to being active and take decisive steps to address them.”

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