Promoting Sports & Fitness
Participation and Industry Vitality

SFIA Products and Services

The 'Leaky Bucket' Effect

Date: 6/29/09

JUPITER, FLORIDA – June 30, 2009 – Each year, a great deal of time is spent talking about gains and losses of specific sports with respect to participation.  Typically, we spend the bulk of our time looking at new people that decide to start playing a sport or want to participate in a specific activity.  With that in mind, take time to look at the people that stop playing a sport or activity?  Some might call this the ‘leaky bucket’ effect.  It’s time to ‘stop the leak’ and grow the sport.  In marketing terms, this is known as the ‘churn rate.’ 

As an example, let’s take a look at three separate sports: swimming for fitness and competition; gymnastics; and one team sport, baseball.    Swimming is coming off an incredible year of heightened visibility from the Olympics due to Michael Phelps and the rest of the American swim team.  Gymnastics also enjoyed a great deal of Olympic visibility.  Baseball continues to be one of the most played team sports across the nation.  If we look at the chart below, you see that swimming has the lowest ‘churn rate’ of the three sports that were chosen for this example.  Baseball comes in second in terms of ‘churn rate,’ while gymnastics comes in third as it ‘churns’ through a third of its participants every year.  Swimming does a wonderful job of keeping people loyal to the sport once they start it.  Gymnastics has a different challenge in that it needs to add a significant number of new people each year just to stay even. 

Participation ‘Churn Rates’ (based on overall participation levels):


Churn %

Swimming (Fitness/Competition)


Gymnastics 33%


So, as you look at the gains and losses that occur for each sport or activity, you can continue to add new people every year or you can work hard to keep the participants that you already have.  Plug the ‘leaky bucket’ and watch your sport grow.

In the SGMA’s upcoming Grassroots Sports Participation in America Study, we will take a look at the specific reasons why a person decides to stop playing a specific sport or activity.   In addition, the study will include full churn numbers and analysis for all sports included in the study.  If you are interested in learning more about this study, please contact Neil Schwartz at SGMA Research.  There will also be a full churn report available by the middle of July on the SGMA’s web site – www.sgma.com

The SGMA’s annual Sports & Fitness Participation Study is conducted using a sample of 40,000+ Americans.  The study collects detailed demographic and lifestyle data on participants in 117 sports and related activities.  If you would like to see a more detailed report for your specific sport, contact Neil Schwartz at SGMA Research (561.427.0647 or neil.schwartz@sportsmarketingsurveys.com).  SGMA Research is also ready to handle any sort of custom research project that you may need.

SGMA Research is the exclusive provider research and analysis for SGMA.  Current studies include:

  • Annual Sports & Fitness Participation Study
  • Individual Sport Reports
  • State of the Industry Report
  • Industry Shipments Report

The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA), the #1 source for sport and fitness research, is the leading global trade association of manufacturers, retailers, and marketers in the sports products industry.  SGMA helps lead the sports and fitness industries by fostering participation through research, thought leadership, product promotion, and public policy.  More information about SGMA membership, SGMA Research, and SGMA's National Health Through Fitness Day can be found at www.SGMA.com.

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