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During my summer internship I came across a report from the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association showing the participation in various sports in the United States. The free report shows participation numbers from as far back as 1987 and highlights some interesting trends. All the data referenced in this entry come from the 2005 Topline Participation Report from the SGMA. Sports are broken down into various categories like fitness, team sports, indoor sports, wheel sports, outdoor activities, winter sports, and more. It is really is unbelievable how comprehensive this report is.

The first sport I looked at was mountain biking (naturally). As a mountain biker I had the impression that the sport is growing in popularity as I personally know plenty of people who either want to get into the sport or who have recently purchased mountain bikes. But according to the SGMA report, mountain biking participation in the US has been declining since 1998! The SGMA estimates that 5.3M Americans will go mountain biking at least once in 2005, down from the peak of 8.6M in 1998. In 2005 more people will go Trail Running than mountain biking. What’s up with that?

It’s also interesting to note that almost all team sports saw participation numbers decline from 2004 to 2005 with the exception of cheerleading, softball, and volleyball, which all happen to be traditionally female dominated sports. Even soccer has seen huge increases in the numbers of female players participating over the last few years but not enough to stem an overall decline in participation by 10%. Perhaps kids today are choosing X-box and Playstation as their sports of choice? Does playing Triple Play Baseball on Playstation count as participation? Even skateboarding is down almost 5%, although participation is up almost 50% over the past 6 years.

This report also opened my eyes to the potential sizes of various sports markets and how that should play into business decisions or models for start-ups. More than 51M Americans will go camping at least once in 2005 and 37M will go running or jogging. Recreational participants make up huge numbers of sports participants and far outnumber the more serious competitors. 52M Americans will go for a “recreational” bike ride in 2005, 92M will do some recreational walking (whatever that means?), and a whopping 95M will go for a recreational swim. The potential to sell to or convert some of the recreational participants certainly represents a large opportunity for savvy marketers.

This SGMA report does a great job at putting sports participation numbers into perspective. The SGMA offers more detailed reports on each sport to give entrepreneurs and industry leaders a solid understanding of the numbers behind various sports in the United States.

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