By Matt Powell, Vice President, Senior Industry Advisor, Sports, The NPD Group

Some of my readers have suggested that I’m too negative. The truth is, I report what I see, and what I see is not always pretty. Some of the trends that folks are excited about aren’t actually that good or healthy for the sports industry. Take the growth of brands’ direct to consumer (DTC) businesses. While on the surface this appears to be healthy growth, really it is not. Brands are taking retail sales and margin away from their wholesale partners and achieving these gains by being very promotional, which is hardly a brand building effort. I’ll be writing more about this in my next blog.

In this one, I want to focus on identifying what I see as opportunities, both large and small, for the sports industry. I hope you will find them helpful.

In the U.S. team sports equipment market (which includes golf), NPD retail sales data shows positive gains in categories that I largely attribute to the boom in retiring Baby Boomers. We’re seeing growth in categories including full price golf sets, golf balls, and pickle balls. With tens of thousands of Baby Boomers retiring every day in the U.S., brands and retailers should harness this life stage phenomenon, and identify products to sell to them.

Travel is another area of opportunity for sport retailers. Many of these retirees are taking trips and need products that help them enjoy their journey. Fanny packs, lightweight footwear, and versatile clothing are some quick ideas on how to grab available retiree dollars.

In many areas, we continue to see growth of smaller brands outpacing the larger ones. To compensate, larger brands must figure out how to act “small” through limited releases, collaborations, and sub-brands, as examples. Retailers should embrace and elevate the smaller brands for growth and for differentiation. Even smaller categories, perhaps previously overlooked, can be a source for gains. Personal water bottles come to mind as a perfect add-on sale.

Sustainability is another hot topic. Brands and retailers must move quickly to leverage this consumer interest before sustainability becomes “table stakes.” I think brands and retailers, for the most part, have done a poor job explaining and educating on their sustainable efforts. NPD consumer surveys indicate that consumers are often unsure whether or not what they purchased was sustainable. As an industry, we need to do a better job explaining our efforts.

“Socialized competition” has become a thing, driving interest to activities such as Topgolf and climbing clubs. As interest in these activities grows, how do brands and retailers exploit the trend? What sports products could we be selling to these new consumers? These are questions that industry players need to ask themselves and answer.

The women’s market remains a conundrum. Traditional athletic brands continue to struggle here, at the expense of the vertical brands. We keep doing the same things over and over, expecting a different result. It’s time to blow up the model and get this business that is owed to us.

The shared economy is booming. There is an opportunity for sports brands and retailers to explore how this trend of resell, refurbish, rent, reuse, and recycle can be exploited to our gain.

These are challenging times for our industry, but new and creative approaches just may be the solution to succeed.

About The NPD Group, Inc.: NPD offers data, industry expertise, and prescriptive analytics to help our clients grow their businesses in a changing world. Over 2,000 companies worldwide rely on us to help them measure, predict, and improve performance across all channels, including brick-and-mortar and e-commerce. We have offices in 29 cities worldwide, with operations spanning the Americas, Europe, and APAC. Practice areas include apparel, appliances, automotive, beauty, books, B2B technology, consumer technology, e-commerce, fashion accessories, food consumption, foodservice, footwear, home, juvenile products, media entertainment, mobile, office supplies, retail, sports, toys, video games, and watches. For more information, visit npd.com. Follow us on Twitter: @npd_sports.