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SGMA Reports That Team Sports in the U.S. Are Evolving

Date: 9/6/12

Basketball, Baseball, & Swimming Have Highest Percentage of ‘Core’ Participants   

SILVER SPRING, MD – September 6, 2012 – The forces of supply and demand are having a major impact on team sports in the United States.  According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association’s (SGMA) annual participation study on team sports -- U. S. Trends in Team Sports (2012 edition) – the number of 6-17 year old children that want to play youth sports is on the rise while overall play in local youth sports leagues is decreasing.  This SGMA study indicates that there is a shortage of available facilities and local recreation leagues (a supply issue) and there has been an evolution for team sports, such as basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and baseball, into a tournament and “showcase” based model that puts less importance on regular, local league play (a demand issue).

 “The importance and significance of team sports in our lives in the U.S. has never been greater than it is right now and this was reflected in the record number of Americans who watched the Olympic Games on television this summer.  Our national interest in the U.S. Olympic teams that competed in basketball, soccer, gymnastics, swimming, and track & field was substantial, to say the least,” said SGMA President Tom Cove. “While interest is high in team sports, overall participation in 19 team sports actually declined from 2010 to 2011.  It would be great if many of the spectators actually decided to participate as well!”

According to SGMA’s U. S. Trends in Team Sports, the team sports which have had strongest gains in overall participation since 2008 are lacrosse (up 37.3%), rugby (up 30%), gymnastics (up 21.4%), ice hockey (up 13.9%), beach volleyball (up 10.6%), and ultimate Frisbee (up 9.6%).  Among the 24 team sports in this study, baseball (69%), basketball (67%), and swimming for competition (64%) have the highest percentage of ‘core’ participants, which are those who are the most committed, in terms of playing days, to their respective sport.  

“Team sports are actually getting a boost from adult females (age 18+) and among young females (age 6-12).  On the other hand, fewer and fewer adult males (age 18+) are playing team sports and those that do play are not playing as many sports as they have been in the past,” said Neil Schwartz, director of business development for SGMA Research.”

In U.S. Trends in Team Sports, there is a section that reports on consumer spending on team sports.  The results are revealing:

Equipment Is Key.  U.S. consumers were less likely to report cuts in spending on sporting goods equipment in the 2012 survey than they were in the 2011 survey.

‘Niche’ Sports Spur Spending
. At least 40% of the participants in field hockey, ice hockey, roller hockey, lacrosse, and wrestling reported an increase in equipment spending in 2011.

Spending This Year.  Nearly 40% of team sports participants plan to increase their spending this year on ‘travel to take part in sports/recreation activities’ and ‘team sports outside of school.’

In, U.S. Trends in Team Sports, a survey was conducted among team sports athletes to see which sports and activities – outside of their main team sports – interested them.  

  1. 75% of all cheerleaders have no other athletic interests;
  2. 34% of basketball players enjoy working out with weights;
  3. 28% of baseball players like bicycle riding;
  4. Golf is most appealing to baseball players and roller hockey players;
  5. Tennis is most popular among grass volleyball players and indoor soccer players.

This edition of U.S. Trends in Team Sports features Q & A interviews with four individuals who play a prominent role in team sports in the U.S.  They are Scott Hallenbeck, executive director, USA Football; Stephen Keener, president/CEO, Little League Baseball International; Jon Butler, executive director, Pop Warner Football; and Kevin Davis, president/CEO, Bauer Hockey.

Scott Hallenbeck says USA Football is constantly looking at how the game can be enhanced and improved.  In a nutshell, Hallenback says preserving the status quo is never the option at USA Football.

“Football has thrived for decades. It’s notable how strong the game is, although there are so many ways that we are improving it, particularly in coaching education. The sport must continue to evolve. This is happening,” said Hallenbeck.  “We have the only nationally accredited coaching education program.  Coaching education and instruction have become an important part of youth football. Ours incorporates video, quizzes, 3D visualization, and other tools that add practical value. We have more than 30,000 coaches who come to us individually each year. They genuinely want to get better.”

At Little League Baseball, Keener says it’s important that, as young children, promising baseball players should not focus their athletic talents just on the game of baseball.

“We try to educate parents that everything we’ve heard tells us that specialization at such a young age is not necessarily a good thing,” said Keener. “For instance, in warm weather locations kids are being provided opportunities to play baseball year-round and they get burned out. They’ll be healthier long-term if they diversify.”

At Pop Warner, Jon Butler says his group is well informed on the issue of concussions and is doing everything in its power to keep players as safe as possible.

“In 2010 we established the Pop Warner Medical Advisory Board, led by physicians with expertise in neuromedicine and sports safety, to ensure that Pop Warner stays at the forefront of new health and safety issues and any medical developments that may affect our young athletes,” said Butler.  “In June we announced two new rule changes for the 2012 season that address the type of contact and amount of contact allowed in football practice – a first at any level of the sport.”

While Bauer is having success in the marketplace, Kevin Davis says his company does not take that success for granted.

“With Bauer we have 60% market share in ice hockey helmets, and with Cascade we have 80% market share in lacrosse helmets…so safety is our responsibility,” said Bauer.  “We treat each season like you rent your market share. We approach everything from a relatively humble basis. There’s a consumer and a customer, and you have to earn that business every season.”

Listed below are some newsworthy excerpts from this edition of U.S. Trends in Team Sports:

  • A Young Foundation:  Competitive swimming has the highest percentage of ‘core’ participants who are 6-17 years-old, as 84% of all ‘core’ competitive swimmers are in that age group.  And, 70% of all swimmers are in the 6-17 year-old age group.
  • School Is Cool:   Cheerleading has the highest percentage (77%) of ‘core’ participants who are engaged in an activity through either school or college.
  • Girls Rule:  There are seven activities where more than 50% of the ‘core’ participants are female – cheerleading, field hockey, gymnastics, fast-pitch softball, swimming for competition, court volleyball, and grass volleyball.
  • The Mature Crowd:  Beach volleyball has the highest percentage of ‘core’ participants who are between the ages of 25 and 54 – 64%.
  • Money Matters:  The two sports where the largest percentage of participants comes from households that make more than $100,000 a year are field hockey and swimming for competition.
  • Survey Says:  Age 14 is the peak age for participation in team sports in the U.S.
  • Young and Old:  The sports where most of the ‘core’ participants tend to be younger include baseball, flag football, gymnastics, fast-pitch softball, swimming for competition, and track & field, while the sports where most of the ‘core’ participants tend to be older include rugby, touch football, and slow-pitch softball.
  • Cash Register ‘Kings’:  The combined category of baseball/softball leads in overall team sports equipment sales – at $489 million (at wholesale) in 2011…….football is number one for wholesale sales of team uniforms ($360 million)……soccer is number one for wholesale sales of team footwear ($285 million).


  1. There’s a special report entitled Impact of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.”  While this year’s Olympic Games in London attracted more than 219 million viewers in the US (and more than one billion worldwide), what significant and lasting impact will it have participation and interest in sports in the U.S.  With the U.S. women winning team gold medals in gymnastics and soccer, how many females will start getting involved in gymnastics and soccer?  Who will be the next Gabby Douglass and Abby Wambach?
  2. ‘The Churn Rate’ and ‘Leaky Bucket’ Syndrome.  Every year, there are people who are new to an activity or who are returning to a sport (‘Newcomers’) and there are those who stop participating in that sport (‘The Churn Rate’).  This process is known as the ‘Leaky Bucket’ Syndrome. 
  3. Manufacturers’ sales of team sports gear are featured in U.S. Trends in Team Sports.  Specifically, there are listings of manufacturers’ sales (at wholesale) of sports equipment for baseball/softball; basketball; football; ice hockey; lacrosse, soccer; and volleyball (2007-2011)…….manufacturers’ sales (at wholesale) for team uniforms for baseball, basketball, football, soccer, volleyball, and ‘other’ team sports (2007-2011)……and manufacturers’ sales (at wholesale) for team footwear for baseball, football, soccer and volleyball (2007-2011).

The team sports featured in U.S. Trends in Team Sports (2012 edition) 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), swimming for competition, track & field, ultimate frisbee, volleyball (beach), volleyball (court), volleyball (grass), and wrestling.

To request a copy of U.S. Trends in Team Sports (2012 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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