Sporting goods store sales grew 25% in the United States during the five-year period 1997-2002, according to an NSGA analysis of recently released U.S. Census of Retail data. Sales in sporting goods stores, which include full-line stores and specialty sports shops, rose to $25.02 billion in 2002 versus $20.04 billion in 1997.

The 25% growth was far stronger than the 5.6% U.S. population growth in the same timeframe. “Undoubtedly, the rapid rise in exercise equipment sales in those five years was a major contributor to this growth,” NSGA Vice President of Information & Research Thomas B. Doyle said. “The continuing concern of the American public about their personal fitness will continue to be a driving force in equipment sales for the next several years.”

Sales growth was stronger in the full-line store segment, up 39% to $12.98 billion in 2002 versus $9.31 billion in 1997. Sales in specialty sports shops rose 12% to $12.05 billion versus $10.73 billion in 1997. In the previous Census of Retail, sales had grown more rapidly in specialty sports shops than in full line stores, 42% versus 35%.

The total number of sporting goods stores, which include full-line and specialty sports shops, fell 9.1% in the same five-year period. There were 22,193 stores in 2002 versus 24,424 in 1997. Both full-line and specialty sport shops experienced this decline. The number of full-line stores fell 8.1% to 6,852 versus 7,458 in 1997. The number of specialty sports shops fell 9.6% to 15,341 versus 16,966 in 1997.

The Census of Retail does not count specialty athletic footwear stores in the sporting goods store category. Data on specialty athletic footwear stores will be released later this year or early in 2005.

Sales per store in full-line stores were significantly higher than those in specialty sports shops. Among full-line stores, 2002 sales per store were $1,894,000; among specialty shops, $785,000. With the continued expansion of the number of large format stores in the 1997-2002 timeframe, sales per store in full-line stores grew at twice the rate as in specialty sports shops. Versus 1997, sales per store in full-line stores rose 52%; in specialty sports shops, 24%.

The U.S. Bureau of the Census conducts the Census of Retail Trade once every five years.