While the bulk of U.S. fans and players remain dedicated to football, basketball and baseball, it seems clear that other participants and fans are looking for greener fields. According to the recently published Physical Activity Council's 2015 Sports, Fitness, and Leisure Activities Topline Participation Report, the traditional big three sports don’t even make the list. Instead, the activities with the highest growth of core participants – meaning people who participate in the sport on a regular basis – are somewhat surprising. Topping the list are adventure racing, MMA (mixed martial arts) for competition, off-road triathlons, lacrosse, traditional triathlons and rugby.
The top sport in terms of growth percentage, adventure racing, now has about 1.3 million core participants in the U.S., and has been seeing growth rates topping 20 percent. MMA for competition is close behind, with growth of 19.5 percent in the past two years. Off-road triathlons saw growth of 13.5 percent, lacrosse grew 12.3 percent, traditional triathlons are up 12.2 percent and rugby grew by 10.7 percent.
While these activities show the greatest growth in percentage, the Topline Participation Report listed high-impact aerobics, swimming for fitness, yoga, adventure racing and mountain biking as the top five activities from the perspective of the number of new core participants added in the past two years.
According to the report, Americans today are looking for more than just a way to keep fit: they want a fun experience at the same time.
“Many people are simply looking for an athletic and exercise outlet that is not conventional,” wrote SportsOneSource Media. “While getting in better physical shape is always one of the goals of exercise and being physically active, the athletically inclined consumer of today seeks a fun mental and emotional 'takeaway,' which not all traditional sports endeavors can deliver. That is why long weekend golf trips and weekend hiking excursions are so popular.”
The report noted that while the traditional sports of baseball, football and basketball remain popular for viewing, Americans don’t necessarily want to play what they watch today. This may be due to the competition factor: increasingly, people want to feel part of an activity, not be measured by a scoreboard.
The Physical Activity Council (PAC) is made up of six of the leading sports and manufacturer associations: Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), Snowsports Industries America (SIA), Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Foundation (OIA) and (OF), International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub, Association (IHRSA), National Golf Foundation (NGF), and Tennis Industry Association (TIA) and United States Tennis Association (USTA).