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What Can a Robust Holiday Spending Forecast Tell Us About Sports?

7 Oct, 2021

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

The frost is barely on the pumpkin (or anywhere else) but the headlong rush toward the holidays has begun.

We’re already moving from the season of pumpkin spice everything to the season of chocolate mint everything, after all. And everyone is jumping up and down with excitement over the fact that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (complete with a Baby Yoda/Grogu balloon) walked along the route, will be televised live, not to mention a forecast of robust holiday spending in the sporting goods sector.

Well, three cheers for that, and for the $10.14 billion spend on Halloween being predicted by the National Retail Federation. But what does all that have to do with sports?

Answer: A lot. For example, while we’re aware that consumer spending on Halloween-related items is expected to reach an all-time high of $10.14 billion (up from $8.05 billion in 2020), what we may not be aware of is how much of that rolls into enrollment of Halloween-themed sports events. 

With more spending money and less fear, Americans are all kinds of into participating in sports. And while the NRF does not have a specific category for sports, they report that an estimated 65 percent of Americans intend to celebrate Halloween or participate in Halloween activities this year, up from 58 percent in 2020 and comparable with 68 percent in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic.

And that includes Halloween-themed sports events. 5Ks, which have been steadily increasing in number, absolutely explode the last weekend of October (Halloween falls on a Sunday this year). Most races are held on Saturday, October 30, according to Running in the USA, and feature names like the Monster Mash (and Monster Dash), Boo Run, the Great Costume Run – and plenty of others.

It’s not just running, though. It’s racquetball (the Ghostly Classic), soccer (the Halloween Havoc), lacrosse (Monster Mash Lax), even pickleball (another event named The Halloween Havoc).

The great holiday forecast tells us people are traveling again; in addition to the scheduling of travel events, as seen at Halloween, we’re starting to see 5Ks held in conjunction with college and high school homecoming events. That’s even better news: people are traveling and spending money on sports at a time when they might just have been planning a vacation.

Once Halloween clears the calendar, the Thanksgiving sports events are out in force. In terms of 5Ks, turkey trots are explosively popular, according to Running USA, which in 2020, hosted the nation’s largest single-event turkey trot, racking up 50,000 participants in a four-day window (albeit competing remotely). But prior to 2020 (officially a four-letter word these days), the turkey trot was in its heyday as the oldest continuously running race on the continent.

According to an article in Runner’s World, Running USA notes that more than 901,753 people finished a trot in 2015, up from 684,334 in 2011, marking a more than 30 percent increase in four years. By 2018, 1.17 million participants were recorded.

And people travel to participate in them, despite the fact that almost every town offers one.

Take Buffalo, for example, where, Runner’s World points out, the race is more than 125 years old.  The number of participants there surpassed 10,000 in 2008, and in recent years, reached 14,000, which is where it’s now capped, making it the fourth largest Turkey Trot in the country.

Geoffrey Falkner, communications director for the historic Buffalo Turkey Trot, notes that within that field are runners from across the U.S.—and around the world; in fact, the race has drawn participants from Ireland, the U.K., and even as far away as Australia, demonstrating the race’s appeal beyond just turkey-loving Americans.

In the early 1980s, runners began dressing up as Canadian hockey players. Others soon followed suit, donning turkey, pilgrim, and other seasonal getups. These days, costumes are (nearly) as endemic to turkey trots as the postrace turkey itself.

And we haven’t even scratched the surface of the Christmas events. The school break is a popular time for basketball tournaments (what, you never heard of the Tampa Bay Christmas Tourney?), volleyball tournaments (the Christmas Challenge in Clearwater, for example) and plenty of others. That’s not even counting ugly sweater runs, Santa Hustles and other events.

The bottom line is this, though. Money is coming in. People are spending it on sporting goods and sports. We’re in a better position than we were last year. Oh, and 2020 (a four-letter word if we’ve ever heard one) is over.

And in terms of the holidays, that’s something worth celebrating.

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