Promoting Sports & Fitness
Participation and Industry Vitality

SFIA Products and Services

SGMA's 'Olympic Top 20' Participation Study

Date: 8/1/12

SILVER SPRING, MD – August 1, 2012 – When the Summer Olympic Games take place every four years, there are two side effects that you can expect to see.  Firstly, television viewership will be strong and, secondly, Americans tend to get more active playing many of the sports and activities they watch during the Olympic Games, according to research from the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA). 

According to SGMA Research, there was a slight increase in participation for Olympic sports from 2003 to 2004, when the Summer Games were in Athens.  There was a similar increase in participation for Olympic sports from 2007 to 2008, when the Summer Games were held in Beijing.

It’s also worth noting that there were 16 fitness and exercise activities which experienced a boost in participation from 2008 to 2009 – based on the findings of SGMA Research. 

Listed below are the most popular Olympic sports, from a participant perspective, in the United States – based on core participation.

(core participants in 2011; U.S. residents; age 6 and above) 

Rank Activity/Sport Core Participants
1 Bicycling (Road/Surface)    20.644 million (13+ times/year)
2 Basketball 16.672 million (26+ times/year)
3 Tennis 14.258 million (11+ times/year)
4 Outdoor Soccer 6.353 million (26+ times/year)
5 Table Tennis    5.598 million (13+ times/year)
6 Target Shooting (Rifle)        5.209 million (8+ times/year)
7 Court Volleyball      3.909 million (13+ times/year)
8 Mountain Biking       3.705 million (13+ times/year)
9 Horseback Riding 2.522 million (13+ times/year)
10 Track & Field     2.511 million (26+ times/year)
11 Badminton        2.448 million (13+ times/year)
12 Kayaking (recreational)   2.165 million (8+ times/year)
13 Gymnastics    1.832 million (50+ times/year)
14 Swimming (competition)    1.523 million (50+ times/year)
15 Sailing      1.328 million (8+ times/year)
16 Beach Volleyball        1.289 million (13+ times/year)
17 Shooting (Trap/Skeet)   1.245 million (8+ times/year)
18 BMX Cycling   1.152 million (13+ times/year)
19 Wrestling    1.056 million (26+ times/year)
20 Triathlon (Traditional)     1.047 million (2+ times/year)

 Source:  The Physical Activity Council’s 2012 Sports, Fitness, and Leisure Activities Topline Participation Report

Other Olympic-oriented research from the SGMA shows, from a spectator point of view, that the Winter and Summer Olympic Games remain the two most popular spectator events for TV viewers of sports. But, it is important to note that the Olympics come around every two years and have a relatively short run. The National Football League (NFL) is still the nation’s most popular sport on a regular basis.

“While some people may not be motivated to play a particular sport because of watching the Olympic Games, many people are encouraged to start exercising and get in better physical shape because of the Olympic Games,” said Neil Schwartz of SGMA Research.  “In some cases, we see a straight line from Olympic coverage and increased sports participation and other times, it is not so direct.  The research clearly supports that analysis.”

“While it’s great news that people are motivated and inspired to be active based on watching the Olympics, the more immediate challenge is this: Once people decide to get more active and get involved in an activity, how do we keep them engaged?” commented SGMA President/CEO Tom Cove.

This year’s Sports, Fitness, & Recreational Activities Participation Topline Report, the definitive source for sports participation in America, has overall participation figures for 119 sports in 14 different categories (fitness activities, equipment exercise, team sports, racquet sports, outdoor activities, fishing, winter sports, personal contact sports, indoor sports, wheeled sports, hunting, shooting sports, water sports, and other sports/activities).  This is the industry's essential reference document for sports participation.   Copies of the Sports, Fitness, & Recreational Activities Participation Topline Report (2012 edition) are available from www.sgma.com.

This year’s study has been done as a joint effort of The Physical Activity Council, a collaboration of sports associations that have been doing participation research separately for a number of years: Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, Tennis Industry Association, National Golf Foundation, IHRSA, Snowsports Industries America, The Outdoor Foundation, and the United States Tennis Association.

The 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 promoting favorable public policies, fostering participation through research, thought leadership and product promotion.  More information about SGMA membership, SGMA public policy platform, and SGMA's National Health Through Fitness Day can be found at www.SGMA.com.

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