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New Report Provides Insights on What Sports are Growing, Gaining in Popularity

3 Oct, 2018

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Your parents were right after all when they told you to go outside and play. And a new report covering trends in the sports and fitness industry backs that up, showing enormous growth in more than a dozen outdoor pursuits.

The Sports & Fitness Industry Association, the trade association of leading industry sports and fitness brands, suppliers, retailers and partners, just released its 2018 State of the Industry Report, an in-depth analysis of the trends and issues affecting the sports and fitness industry, including participation, economy and industry environment. And in it are some excellent insights for owners and rights holders of sports events.

What’s Growing? Mostly Outdoor Sports

Most of the top 25 fastest-growing sports over the last five years are predominantly outdoor activities: bicycling (BMX), Cardio Tennis, triathlon (non-traditional/off-road), cross-country skiing, pickleball, rugby, day hiking, trail running, baseball, kayaking, flag football, telemarking, skiing, fly fishing, handgun target shooting and trap/skeet shooting.

A few sports were strictly indoor: rowing machines, cross-training style workouts, kettlebells and indoor soccer. Some sports, such as team swimming, could be indoor or outdoor, depending on the climate.

Savvy planners should not be surprised by any of this. The outdoor industry has been making participation gains all along, and SFIA is not the only one recording them. The American Sportfishing Association quoted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation as showing there are more than 46 million licensed anglers who generate over $48 billion in retail sales with a $115 billion impact on the nation’s economy creating employment for more than 828,000 people. The political clout is even greater considering at least 46 million anglers fished at some point over the past five-year period.

Tournaments and competitive events in sports like fishing, orienteering, archery, shooting, SUP and more are on the rise – as evidenced by an ever-growing calendar of events in SDM’s website. That is only evidence of a greater trend, however. SFIA has noted that in 2017, fitness activities saw the highest participation rates since 2008 and gained 23 million people rom 9 years ago, the most of all the sports. Over the years, fitness activities continue to expand as a category, adding in different ways to stay fit, from CrossFit to Orange Theory to Barre.

Some traditional sports have continued to grow. Running (meaning jogging) is up 7.1 percent (as mentioned earlier, trail running is also up, having grown by 6.6 percent).

Threats to Growth: Monetary Issues

One concern for SFIA was the fact that money continues to play an enormous role in determining participation. The correlation between household income and inactivity has become more severe, pay-to-play programs have a much stronger presence when it comes to youth sports and new tariffs are threatening to make products more expensive. A disturbing trend is lower-income families being unable to enroll children in sports, since fewer free programs exist. In addition, fewer schools are offering recess and P.E. classes are diminishing in time, further cutting off children’s access to active play.

Influencing Factors: National Governing Bodies

Ready for a surprise? National governing bodies (NGBs) were seen as one of the biggest influencers on the sports industry. Specifically, rules and programs created by governing bodies were seen as enormous factors. In SFIA’s 2017 Trends in Team Sports Report, local and national programs were “moving the needle.” One program worth noting is the Play Ball campaign. Play Ball is a Major League Baseball (MLB) program supported by USA Baseball and USA Softball. The initiative was created to inspire everyone to “play ball.” Since the campaign’s inception in 2015, total baseball participation has grown 14.1 percent, or by about two million participants.

Alternatively, governing bodies were seen as having a negative result. One example cited was U.S. Soccer’s 2015 adoption of the birth-year registration mandate, which changed the age groupings for youth soccer. Sometimes, rules can change equipment needed, and force parents, teams and others to purchase new equipment. This occurred when USA Baseball implemented a new bat standard in 2018, which affected bat sales.

The State of the Industry Report, which also includes data on sales of sporting goods, found the American sports and fitness products industry grew 2.4 percent in 2017, up from 2.0 percent growth in 2016 and 2015. The report includes additional insights from industry leaders on various trends.

The full report, available in a pdf document, is available for purchase from the SFIA here.

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