The National Sporting Goods Association last week issued some early numbers from its sports participation report for 2004, again pointing to Exercise Walking as the largest participation sport in the U.S. last year. The data, which is part of a broader annual report, show that participation in the category increased 3.8% to 84.7 million participants in 2004, holding on to the spot it has held for ten years. Camping was again cited as the second largest participation activity, growing 3.5% to 55.3 million participants in 2004. Swimming, which was overtaken by Camping in 2003, lagged the growth of most other activities in the top ten, but still held on to the bronze medal with a 2.2% increase to 53.4 million participants.

Based on the numbers reported in the NSGA survey, Swimming could fall to fourth place next year if the Exercising with Equipment category maintains its strong growth rate (+3.9%) from last year. Bowling (43.8 mm), Fishing (41.2 mm), Bicycle Riding (40.3 mm), Billiards/Pool (34.2 mm), Workout at a Club (31.8 mm), and Aerobic Exercising (29.5 mm) rounded out the Top 10 participation activities.

Team sports fared better in 2004 than in 2003, with Tackle Football (-5.3%) the lone exception. Volleyball, which has been in a long-term decline, showed the strongest growth among team sports, up 3.3% to 10.8 million participants. Basketball, the highest-ranking team sport (27.8 million), was flat. Second-ranked Baseball (15.9 million) was up 2.9%. Soccer kept the third spot, up 2.2% with 13.3 million participants.

“Sports Participation in 2004 – Series I and II”, which cover 45 sports, recreation, and fitness activities, will be made available later this month.