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The American Sports Scene: An Analysis of Sports Participation in the U.S.

Date: 5/14/08

WASHINGTON, D.C. – May 14, 2008 – Strength, conditioning, and aerobic activities. Those types of fitness pursuits are inspiring millions of Americans to perspire these days. According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association’s (SGMA) Sports & Fitness Participation Report (2008 edition), there are two factors driving this trend: (1) increases in health/fitness club memberships and (2) strong interest in home gyms. In 1990, just over 20 million Americans were members of health clubs and now that number is well over 40 million. As for home gyms, more than 25 million Americans use home gyms and millions more work out on individual fitness machines located in their homes.

“The news of this ever-growing interest in the fitness category is encouraging, but there are still millions more Americans who need to ‘get up and get active’ on a regular basis. Despite the fact the fitness category is on the rise, too many Americans are inactive which is leading to an obesity problem in the U.S.,” SGMA President/CEO Tom Cove. “For those who may not be attracted to a gym-like environment, there’s a cornucopia of choices when it comes to selecting a sport, athletic outlet, or recreational pursuit.”

While the fitness category is gaining in strength, it’s not the only popular sports category as Americans remain very interested in all athletic and recreational endeavors: 

  1. Team Sports: Besides the ‘Big Three’ of football, basketball and baseball, team sports like lacrosse, rugby, field hockey, and cheerleading are on the rise.
  2. Racquet Sports: Badminton, racquetball, squash, table tennis, and tennis are all showing recent gains in participation.
  3. Outdoor Sports: Freshwater fishing, bicycling (road/paved surface), camping, and day hiking are the key attractions in this category.
  4. Water Sports: Canoeing and snorkeling rank one-two.
  5. Individual Sports: Since 2000, the top three growth sports are bowling, roller skating, and martial arts.
  6. Winter Sports. Alpine skiing remains number one in popularity though snowboarding is a strong number two.

According to SGMA, the sports and activities with the highest levels of interest among ‘core’ participants in 2007 are listed below. Not surprisingly, fitness is the dominant theme as fitness activities account for nine out of the top 15 athletic pursuits.

Most Popular Sports and Fitness Activities Based on ‘Core’ Participation (age 6 and above; U.S. residents; source: SGMA)  

Rank/Sport

2007 Participation

‘Core’ Level of Frequency

Walking for Fitness 76,837,000 50+ Days/Year
Treadmill 29,182,000 50+ Days/Year
Stretching 28,318,000 50+ Days/Year
Hand Weights 28,186,000 50+ Days/Year
Weight/Resistance Machines 24,735,000 50+ Days/Year
Running/Jogging 24,240,000 50+ Days/Year
Freshwater Fishing 23,714,000 8+ Days/Year
Dumbells 21,574,000 50+ Days/Year
Bicycling (Road/Paved Surface) 21,151,000 25+ Days/Year
Billiards/Pool 20,294,000 13+ Days/Year
Basketball 18,005,000 13+ Days/Year
Barbells 17,318,000 50+ Days/Year
Home Gym Exercise 16,246,000 50+ Days/Year
Bowling 15,422,000 13+ Days/Year
Low Impact Aerobics 13,056,000 50+ Days/Year

Of the top ten sports and athletic activities showcasing the highest statistical growth in participation since 2000, seven of the top ten growth categories are under the fitness banner. Again, that’s a reflection of the increased level of interest in health clubs and the availability of home exercise machines.

Sports and Fitness Activities with the Highest Growth Rates Since 2000 (age 6 and above; U.S. residents; source: SGMA) 

Rank/Sport 2007 Participation Growth Rate Since 2000
Pilates Training 9,192,000 490.9%
Elliptical Motion Trainer 23,586,000 220.0%
Yoga/Tai Chi 14,072,000 125.2%
Lacrosse 1,058.000 104.2%
Paintball 5,476,000 51.5%
Stretching 36,181,000 47.0%
Treadmill 50,073,000 34.3%
Spinning 6,314,000 34.1%
Running/Jogging 41,064,000 30.8%
Tennis 16,940,000 30.6%

Within the fitness category, it’s not surprising to discover that the two most popular pursuits involve your ability to put one foot in front of the other – walking! Walking for fitness and using a treadmill rank one-two in the fitness category.

“If you can walk and can maintain your balance, you can walk your way into shape or you can start using a treadmill,” commented Cove.

Leading Fitness Activities Based on ‘Core’ and ‘Total’ Participation (age 6 and above; 2007 participants; U.S. residents; source: SGMA)

Rank/Sport

‘Core’ Participants

‘Total’ Participants

 % of Core Participants

Walking for Fitness 76,837,000 (50+ days) 108,781,000 70.6%
Treadmill 29,182,000 (50+ days) 50,100,000 58.2%
Stretching 28,318,000 (50+ days) 36,260,000 78.1%
Hand Weights 28,186,000 (50+ days) 43,734,000 64.4%
Running/Jogging 24,240,000 (50+ days)  40,966,000 59.2%

  While fitness is the industry’s leading overall participation category, many Americans first get introduced to the athletic arena through team sports.

Leading Team Sports Based on ‘Core’ Participants (age 6 and above; 2007 participants; U.S. residents; source: SGMA)

Rank/Sport

Core Participants

Total Participants

% of Core Participants

Basketball 18,005,000 (13+ days) 26,019,000 69.2%
Baseball 11,565,000 (13+ days) 16,054,000 72.0%
Touch Football 6,445,000 (13+ days) 13,009,000 49.5%
Outdoor Soccer 6,366,000 (13+ days) 13,840,000 46.0%
Slow-Pitch Softball 6,070,000 (13+ days) 9,485,000 64.0%

This year’s SGMA Sports & Fitness Participation Report has overall participation figures for 112 sports in nine different categories (aerobic activities, conditioning activities, strength activities, individual sports, racquet sports, team sports, outdoor sports, winter sports, and water sports). Complimentary copies of the SGMA Sports & Fitness Participation Report (2008 edition) are available from www.sgma.com.

This year’s study has been done as a joint effort of the USA Sports & Fitness Participation Study, a collaboration of sports associations that have been doing participation research separately for a number of years: Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, National Golf Foundation, Snowsports Industries America and the Outdoor Industry Foundation.

During late January/early February of 2008, a total of 40,794 online interviews were carried out with a nationwide sample of individuals and households from the U.S. Online Panel operated by Synovate. A total of 15,013 individual and 25,781 household surveys were completed. The total panel has over one million members and is maintained to be representative of the U.S. population. Over sampling of ethnic groups took place to boost response from typically under responding groups. A weighting technique was used to balance the data to reflect the total U.S. population aged six and above. The following variables were used: gender, age, income, household size, region, and population density. The total population figure used was 274,796,000 people aged six and above.

The online methodology allows for re-contacting specific groups of sports participants such as frequent runners or home gym users for follow-up consumer targeted research. Individuals who have recently stopped playing or participating can also be targeted for follow-up interviews. This provides the opportunity for companies to develop deeper consumer research in areas including brand tracking, point-of-purchase influences, purchase frequencies and usage/attitude studies.

Companies will also have the ability to do PRIZM analysis, a lifestyle segmentation system consisting of 66 unique marketing segments intended to help marketers better understand and target their customers. The segments are derived through a statistical analysis of several factors, including age, income, presence of children and ‘urbanicity.’

The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association partners with dmg world media to produce the SGMA Team Sports Show and SGMA Sports Licensing Show. SGMA, the owner of the Sports Research Partnership, is the global business trade association of manufacturers, retailers, and marketers in the sports products industry. SGMA enhances industry vitality and fosters sports, fitness, and active lifestyle participation. More information about SGMA can be found at www.sgma.com.

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