There is a seemingly unbridgeable cultural divide between cell phone-glued Gen Z and Boomers, but both groups agree on one thing: a greater commitment to physical activity.
According to the annual Topline Engagement Report of the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), Americans are now more active than they were before the pandemic. The percentage of Americans reporting being physically inactive for five years fell from 27.3% in 2017 to 22.4% in 2017. The three age groups that see the largest declines are 6-12 years old, 13-17 years old and over 65 years old.
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Most important to the sports equipment and apparel industry is the SFIA assessment of "core" contributors, those who participate often enough to reflect their passion for the sport or activity. These customers tend to factor in brand and quality differences when shopping. The baseline increased for the fifth year in a row, with 51.7% of the country's population frequently engaging in at least one form of physical activity.
Racket sports are popular, with at least 20% more participation per generation since 2019. Pickleball's growth of 158.6% is so impressive that including the sport in the scatter chart below makes it unreadable in the next section of the chart.
No doubt you have read that pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America. However, the sport is still in its infancy, with the foundation of tennis nearly three times its size. In fact, tennis has added 6 million new members since 2019, slightly more than the 5.5 million added by its newest competitor, racquet sports.
There has been increased interest in outdoor fitness activities such as cycling (+10.6% over the past 3 years), walking (+3.0%) and walking (+19.9%), as well as exercise that can be performed at home, and yoga. For example . (+10.4%) and Pilates (+11.6%). However, the data paints a more complex picture for traditional team sports, which have only partly recovered from the sharp decline in 2020.
Tom Kove, CEO of the SFIA, wrote in a report that "the resurgence of team sports has been fueled by informal participation." In fact, overall participation has returned to 23.2% in 2022, which is almost the same as 23.4% in 2019, while grassroots participation has declined across all team sports outside of SFIA. During 2020, school teams and leagues were closed and many players did not return.
The football flag and football player deserve special attention. Random attendance has increased in both cases since 2019, but the number of players playing football is staggering: mass attendance has fallen nearly 25% in the past five years and more than 45% in the past 15 years.
The NFL has been heavily promoting football in recent years, including in the Pro Bowl, and is considering a possible bid to host the 2028 Summer Olympics, but that investment has yet to result in more motivated players. Participation in popular science has fallen by 15% over the past half century and has not increased at all among children aged 6-17.
Aside from outdoor football, which has seen a significant rise in popularity, the only other sport that has not been affected by the pandemic is basketball, which has seen a 34.4% increase in regular players since 2019.
Even basketball and football can't match the socially distancing sports that use health and safety as a target to boost their popularity. While people are more likely to use links, after a few years of boom during the pandemic, driving ranges and similar golf recreational areas have emerged. This momentum continues through 2022, with participation increasing by more than 25% year-on-year.
The opposite of socially distancing sports are training sessions that require private lessons or sophisticated equipment. Participation in cycling, cross-training and cardio kickboxing has fallen over 20% since 2019.
It is difficult to change people's habits once they have become ingrained or, in this case, have been reset by a pandemic. Just look at the reluctance of many white collar workers to return to the office. In general, data on “normal” sports activity in the first year after the pandemic show the same conclusion.
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