Promoting Sports & Fitness
Participation and Industry Vitality

SFIA Products and Services

Team Sports Participation Affected by Many Outside Factors

Date: 9/2/09

WASHINGTON, D.C. – September 3, 2009 – While basketball, baseball, and outdoor soccer may attract the most team sports participants in the U.S., overall participation numbers in team sports are not as strong as they once were.  The popularity of traditional team sports in the U.S. is being undermined by four key issues, according to an analysis of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association’s (SGMA) annual participation study on team sports -- U. S. Trends in Team Sports (2009). 


“Last year, the struggling U.S. economy, the emergence of developing sports, overall declines in ‘pickup’ play, and a rising interest in single-sport specialization by many athletes is negatively impacting the entire team sports environment,” said SGMA President Tom Cove.  “One of the biggest factors affecting team sports play has been the struggling U.S. economy.  Frankly, many families have not been able to afford to pay the basic fees for their children to play in local recreational sports programs or to play on some travel teams.  The increased popularity of developing sports like lacrosse, rugby, paintball, and ultimate frisbee has attracted athletes who used to play traditional sports like football, basketball, and baseball.  The continued overall decline in ‘pickup’ and sandlot play in neighborhoods and parks continues to hurt overall participation numbers.  Finally, the three-sport athlete in high school is a dying breed.  So many young athletes, especially in high school, focus their attention on just one or two sports throughout the year as opposed to playing one sport in the fall, one in the winter, and one in the spring.”


While ‘pickup’ and sandlot play for team sports, as a whole, is down across the country, some team sports are showing an increase in ‘pick-up’ play.  In 2008, there were seven team sports where ‘casual/pick-up’ play exceeded organized/sanctioned play.  Those sports were basketball, ice hockey, field hockey, touch football, lacrosse, grass volleyball, and beach volleyball.  SGMA believes this is the result of athletes and their families feeling the pinch of the economy and choosing less expensive ways to play sports by using public facilities such as parks for ‘pick-up’ games of basketball, grass volleyball, beach/sand volleyball, and touch football, for instance.


"Last year was a challenging time for millions of Americans.  The first six months of the year were very typical, but during the last half of the year, many Americans hit the 'reset button' on how they live," said Rich Luker of the Luker Company (rich@lukerco.com), a veteran analyst of community trends in the U.S.   "Concern about high gasoline prices and the mortgage crisis impacted sports participation patterns and how American families spent money to support their athletic interests.  Overall, sports that cost more or took more involvement to play took a 'hit' and many people were more focused on life essentials than on exercise or enjoying athletic competition.  The financial challenges which families faced last year caused them to look for easier, inexpensive athletic outlets – which is  reflected in the increased numbers of people who played simple to access sports just a few times a year."


Sports that have had respectable gains in participation since 2007 are court volleyball (up 17.2%), indoor soccer (up 11.8%), rugby (up 11.8%), and beach volleyball (up 7.5%).


Overall play in high school sports rose again as a record 7,429,381 high school students played high school sports in the 2007-08 school year.

Other key economic factors now driving the team sports business include the following:

  1. Retail Changes -- The continuation of consolidation at the team dealer level as large regional team dealers are rolled up into larger, national organizations.
  2. Product Innovation -- It’s the lifeblood of the industry and it’s sparking rearrangement of team dealer networks as new brands with innovative products are looking for self space and established brands are moving to reinforce their existing franchises with team dealers in the footwear, protective and uniform categories.
  3. Rules and Standards -- Changes by the governing bodies of sports are creating challenges for manufacturers as the governing bodies seek to control the sport venue and manufacturers continue to seek ways to differentiate their products.
  4. School Budget Considerations -- Despite signs of economic recovery, reduced budgets are coming into effect as schools finalize their team equipment purchases for the 2009-2010 school year. While the core team business will continue to be a strong engine driving the sporting goods industry, SGMA believes the next 12 months will be a challenging period of time for those in the team sports business.

Listed below are a few newsworthy points about team sports listed in U.S. Trends in Team Sports:

  • Aging Gracefully:   Nearly 45% of all basketball players are over the age of 25.
  • Ladies Leading the Way:  Females account for the majority of participants in cheerleading, fast-pitch softball, gymnastics, and court volleyball.
  • Pigskin Performers:  The average age of a flag football player (23.9) is three years younger than the average age of a touch football player (27.0).  Why?  Because flag football is played in PE classes in schools.  The state of Florida has flag football as a high school varsity sport for girls.
  • ‘Thirty-Something’ News: Of the three forms of volleyball (grass, beach, and court) grass volleyball is the one with the oldest average age among participants – 33.2 years of age.
  • Leaders in Sales:  The combined category of baseball/softball leads in overall equipment sales – at $602 million (at wholesale) in 2008…….football is #1 for wholesale sales of team uniforms ($358 million)…………baseball is #1 for wholesale sales of team footwear ($321 million).
  • Ladies Love Lacrosse:  Since 1990, female participation in high school lacrosse has more than quadrupled.
  • Cross Generational Appeal:  In paintball, 55% of the players are under the age of 25, while 45% of the players are over the age of 25.
  • Rookies Rank Rugby High:  Of all the team sports featured in the SGMA study, rugby has the highest percentage of first-time players – 44%.
  • High School Sports Scene:  Football is the #1 sport for high school boys while basketball and track & field are running ‘neck and neck’ as the two most popular sports for high school girls.

Also contained in this report are editorial summaries or charts on the following:

  1. Popularity of Team Sports – containing a list of the top ten most popular sports for high school boys and girls.
  2. Special Project:  Grassroots Sports Participation in America a glimpse at this upcoming study by SGMA which will give the industry an in-depth look at how young people make their decisions to participate in a specific sport and what motivates them to stay involved in sports.
  3. Manufacturers’ Sales of Team Sports Gear – listed are manufacturers’ sales (at wholesale) of sports equipment for baseball/softball; soccer; volleyball; football (2006, 2007, and 2008); ice hockey (2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008); basketball (2000, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008); and lacrosse (2006, 2007, and 2008).  Unless specified, years represented are 1996, 1998, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008.


The team sports featured in U.S. Trends in Team Sports include baseball, basketball, cheerleading, field hockey, football (flag), football (tackle), football (touch), gymnastics, ice hockey, lacrosse, paintball, roller hockey, rugby, soccer (indoor), soccer (outdoor), softball (fast pitch), softball (slow pitch), track & field, ultimate frisbee, volleyball (beach), volleyball (court), volleyball (grass), and wrestling.


Data for this report is derived from various sources – the U.S. Census Bureau, NCAA, NFSHSA, NCYS, Pop Warner Football, AAU, Little League Baseball, USA Volleyball, USA Softball, Dixie Baseball/Softball, PONY Baseball/Softball, Babe Ruth Softball, RBI, American Legion Baseball, American Amateur Baseball Congress, USYSA, USA Hockey, and ESPN Sports Poll.


To request a copy of U.S. Trends in Team Sports (2009 edition), access www.SGMA.com.  This report is available free-of-charge to Full Members of SGMA and the editorial media.


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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