Moving the Needle

The key trends, issues, brands, products and categories impacting the industry.

Fitness + Outdoor Activities Trending Up  

Inactivity is an issue for both children and adults in our nation. Yet data shows that across age groups, activity is up in fitness and outdoor based activities.

Fitness class based exercise participation among Americans is up 3.5 percent over the past five years. (These activities include: high impact and intensity training, cross-training, barre, yoga and cardio equipment usage).

Outdoor sports participation among Americans rose at least 7 percent in each of the following activities over the past five years: trail running, cross country skiing, stand up paddling and hiking.

Source: 2019 Physical Activity Council Participation Report

Baseball Rising  

Baseball is on the rise in the U.S. and abroad. Two-year total U.S. participation was up 5.0 percent in 2018 and up 11.2 percent among casual players over the same period, according to the 2019 SFIA Topline Report.

The overall baseball/softball equipment market is estimated at $1.1 billion, according to NPD, which points to growth in protective gear (+4%), helmets (+6%) and protective catcher sets (+8%) over the 12 months ended July 31. Only bat sales, which realized a significant sales lift during the 2018 season due to a new USA Baseball standard, were down over the period.

Retailers are clearly taking notice of the trend. Dick’s Sporting Goods has expanded its in-store HitTrax batting cage technology to 170 locations and expanded its assortment of baseball/softball-related merchandise.

And Little League Baseball’s board recently assured more exposure for the game at the youth level. Starting in 2021, the 75th anniversary season of the Little League World Series, the annual tournament will be expanded to 20 teams with the addition of two more entrants from both the U.S. and international markets.  

The Youth Sports Bright Spots

Only 38 percent  of kids ages 6 to 12 played team or individual sports on a regular basis in 2018, down from 45 percent in 2008, according to data from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. That’s sobering news.

But there are some bright spots. In addition to baseball, a few of the other team sports that saw participation growth from 2017 to 2018 include:

Cheerleading, up 18.2 percent over that one year period; gymnastics, up 8.5 percent; lacrosse, up 4.7 percent; softball, up 4.9 percent; volleyball,up 5.5 percent and wrestling, up 14.2 percent.

Source: The Aspen Institute State of Play Report 2019. (Stats based on percentage of kids ages 6 to 12 who participated in the above sports on a regular basis.)

The Good News Ahead  

Media coverage of American society in general can be overwhelming in our current day and age, but there are emerging consumer sentiments worldwide that are both positive and uplifting. Global trend authority WGSN, in a recently published white paper looking at macro trends for 2021, says that a burgeoning societal trend is a “Deep Kindness” that is developing as a backlash against “hate culture.” The British company says brands that display authenticity and humility, oftentimes taking a stand despite a possible negative impact to their bottom line, will resonate with the “Kindness Keeper” set. Meanwhile, the emerging, young “Market Maker” populations in Africa, India and Southeast Asia will make winners out of brands that establish new and novel paths to purchase merchandise. Finally, “Emerging Compressionalists” are consumers who want to declutter and simplify their lifestyles. WGSN says this group should give more brands incentive to streamline their product offerings, clean up their digital experience and utilize artificial intelligence (AI) to tell their unique story with stress-free shopping solutions.

WGSN says there are “Six Ways to Win in 2021.” The tips for companies/brands include: Cleaning Up Visual Language on websites; embracing a less-is-more approach to Focus on Hero Products; Prioritizing Corporate Care; Going Direct-To-Consumer by ongoing investments in strategic partnerships with digitally native vertical brands; Embracing Re-commerce, including continued investments in aftercare market strategies, rent-to-own collections and buyback incentives; and Innovate Livestreaming with core consumer groups to guarantee higher sales and engagement.

Rewarding Your Best Customers  

Retailers want tighter bonds with their best customers, those who spend the most in their stores and on their ecommerce sites and are revamping sometimes tired “frequent buyer” clubs to better reward them.

In October, both Dick’s Sporting Goods and Target were scheduled to introduce new loyalty programs. Already with more than 20 million active users who collectively account for more than 70 percent of its total revenues, Dick’s will debut an enhanced tier to Scorecard, Scorecard Gold, that is designed to “better reward and engage its most loyal customers.” Smaller market-focused Hibbett Sports reported that enrollment in its loyalty program, where members accounted for 64 percent of Q2 revenues, were up 17 percent in the period. Earlier this year, Foot Locker rolled out FLX (“Flexes With You”) that rewards its best customers with “connected experiences and benefits,” including early access to sneaker releases and access to events, no matter which of the retailer’s banners—Foot Locker, Kids Foot Locker, Lady Foot Locker, Footaction, Champs and Eastbay—they shop at.

Meanwhile, the new, national Target Circle loyalty program, tested in seven U.S. markets, is promising members personalized deals, opportunities to support local non-profits and 1 percent on purchases for redemption during a future shopping trip.

The Shifting Dynamics within “Hooks & Bullets”  

Politically and statistically, the so-called “Hooks & Bullets” category is undergoing a metamorphosis. The debate over restrictions on guns and ammo has reached new heights in Washington, D.C. following escalated actions within corporate circles and more mainstream demand for action following a summer of mass shootings. On the “hook” side, consumer and retail demand for fishing apparel and equipment is on the rise among consumers, sporting goods and technical outdoor stores.

Dick’s Sporting Goods has eliminated the hunting category, including firearms, from approximately 125 stores, replacing the merchandise with “categories and products that drive growth,” it says. And the retailer is still assessing its hunting strategy chainwide with some indicating a complete withdrawal is likely sometime in 2020. Weeks after the mass shooting incident inside its El Paso, TX store, Walmart made two bold decisions by ceasing the sale of all handgun and short-barrel ammunition in its stores and initiating a “no open carry” policy among its customers. While promising to keep the mass merchant’s go-forward assortment focused on the needs of hunting and shooting sports enthusiasts, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon sent letters to Congress and the White House urging common sense gun safety measures, including expanded background checks and possible re-authorization of the assault weapons ban.

At the same time, fishing has been gaining attention for positive reasons. The NPD Group cites fishing as a growth driver in outdoor sports with 49 percent of recreational kayak dollar sales now earmarked for fishing. NPD reports that more sporting goods and core outdoor stores are now seeking out fishing apparel and equipment after once avoiding stocking the products.

“If I had to offer up a ‘why,’” wrote Dirk Sorenson, NPD’s Director of Sports, “I would argue the outdoor consumer has changed. The consumers that bought their first tents, boats, and outdoor equipment in the ’70s and ’80s were attracted to a desire to commune with nature, leave no trace, and found hunting and fishing to be antithetical to beliefs on sustainability and environmentalism… Present consumers are a bit more nuanced in their points of view. Ideas around utility and enjoying the outdoors through a variety of activities are more common… It is through this prism that fishing has gained a strong foothold in paddle sports and within the broader outdoor space.”

The Buzz About CBD  

The buzz continues to build around CBD in athletic circles. Proponents tout its natural benefits in relieving pain and reducing inflammation and stress. CBD oil is an extract from the hemp plant, with leading CBD brands offering the product minus THC (aka, minus the pot high). Research is still evolving on CBD and the regulations in different states are not all the same, but CBD products are available to legally be shipped throughout the U.S. online.

Health and wellness is a trend that CBD falls right into and sports recovery is emerging as a growth category for CBD brands, many of whom are displaying their wares at industry trade shows such as The Running Event and Outdoor Retailer. CBD for athletes comes in the form of beverages, gel caps, gummies, creams, gels and powders among others. Former NFL player Rob Gronkowski is a proponent — he announced that he is partnering with Abacus Health to launch a line of cannabidiol (CBD) products. Snowsports brand Burton partnered with new brand Hit!Balm in a recent NYC pop-up shop event. Hit!Balm, developed by doctor of Chinese medicine Lawrence Miller, targets its CBD line to athletes who love high-intensity sports. Products include a CBD balm, oral Hit!Drops and Hit!Bomb bathbombs. And soccer star Megan Rapinoe is part of the team behind Mendi, a Portland, OR-based brand that offers hemp-derived CBD products that are USA-made, third-party-tested and “built by athletes for athletes.”

Cardio Tennis + Pickleball

Participation numbers for the sport of tennis don’t look great. From 2009 to 2018, “total play occasions” declined 21.8 percent to 384 million. Play occasions by avid tennis players were down 6.8 percent. But there are tennis stats that offer a bright side. Among the fastest growing sports based on participation over the last three years (of about 120 different sports and activities tracked by the Physical Activity Council), cardio tennis ranked first at 11.3 percent growth, followed by pickleball with 9.7 percent growth.

Pickleball is a paddleball sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis. Retailers ranging from pro shops and boutiques to big guys like Play it Again Sports and Dick’s Sporting Goods are expanding offerings of pickleball products, which include a whiffle-ball like ball and a racquet smaller than a tennis racquet.

Cardio tennis is more like a fitness class. It is a high energy activity that combines tennis with cardiovascular exercise with drills, mini games and short bursts of play on the court.

Performance + Urban Outdoor  

Rising up this Fall are collections of note that combine athletic/outdoor and urban style — such as Reebok Classics’ trail collection and Under Armour’s new apparel line with Polartec. Also of note is the new SH/FT collection from Columbia, which aims to bring a younger edge to the establishment outdoor brand’s offerings.

Reebok calls its line “outdoor-inspired takes on heritage footwear silhouettes and new retro outerwear and apparel.”

Columbia’s SH/FT Collection is described by the brand as being “inspired by today’s rapid urbanization and the growing movement to seek balance outdoors,” and designed for “a new generation seeking experiences outside by allowing them to move more seamlessly from pavement to path.”

“We see a movement taking place as more young people are looking to nature and the outdoors to find balance and recharge from their busy lives in the city,” said Peter Ruppe, VP of footwear at Columbia.

Under Armour’s new outdoor collection is a “Street to Summit” range of men’s and women’s footwear and apparel that includes the UA Valsetz Trek shoe and coordinating performance apparel made with Polartec Micro fleece. The UA Valsetz Trek is a low-top shoe with technical hiking inspiration. The apparel is built for layering with sleek bodysuits, tactical vests, woven jackets and fleece pants.

Seeing Stars

In our conversations with specialty retailers about emerging brands, sunglasses were highlighted as a standout category and these three companies below got shoutouts. (Turn to page 18 to see more retail input.)

Goodr: Fun, fashionable and functional sunglasses popular with runners, with $25 being a typical Goodr starting price. Knockaround: Offering affordable shades since 2005. This brand offers affordable performance, some styles as low as $10 MSRP. Tifosi: High quality tech with most styles in the $25 to $80 range. (Turn to page 34 for more on Tifosi.)

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