According to recent research conducted by the SGMA, overall participation numbers in team sports are not as strong as they once were.  The popularity of traditional team sports in the U.S. is being undermined by four key issues: the struggling U.S. economy, the emergence of developing sports, overall declines in ‘pick-up’ play, and a rising interest in single-sport specialization by many athletes.

“One of the biggest factors affecting team sports play has been the struggling U.S. economy.  Frankly, many families have not been able to afford to pay the basic fees for their children to play in local recreational sports programs or to play on some travel teams,” said SGMA President Tom Cove. “The increased popularity of developing sports like lacrosse, rugby, paintball, and ultimate Frisbee has attracted athletes who used to play traditional sports like football, basketball, and baseball. The continued overall decline in pick-up and sandlot play in neighborhoods and parks continues to hurt overall participation numbers.  Finally, the three-sport athlete in high school is a dying breed.”

The newly released report shows that pick-up and sandlot play for team sports are down across the country. However there are some bright spots in SGMA’s findings. Some team sports are showing an increase in pick-up play.  In 2008, there were seven team sports where casual/pick-up play exceeded organized/sanctioned play – basketball, ice hockey, field hockey, touch football, lacrosse, grass volleyball, and beach volleyball. SGMA believes this is the result of athletes and their families feeling the pinch of the economy and choosing less expensive ways to play sports by using public facilities such as parks for pick-up games.

The report suggest that concern about high gasoline prices and the mortgage crisis impacted sports participation patterns and how American families spent money to support their athletic interests. Sports that cost more or took more involvement to play declined in participation.

Rich Luker of the Luker Company, an analyst of community trends in the U.S., contends that many people were more focused on life essentials than on exercise or enjoying athletic competition. “The financial challenges which families faced last year caused them to look for easier, inexpensive athletic outlets – which is  reflected in the increased numbers of people who played simple to access sports just a few times a year,” he said.

Sports that had respectable gains in participation since 2007 are ultimate Frisbee (up 20.8%), court volleyball (up 17.2%), indoor soccer (up 11.8%), rugby (up 11.8%), and beach volleyball (up 7.5%).  Roller hockey (-15.4%) and paintball (-11.3%) showed the biggest declines in participation.

Overall play in high school sports rose again as a record 7,429,381 high school students played sports in the 2007-08 school year.
The report suggests that participation peaks at age 12 at 62.8% of the age group, but declines to 44.2% by age 17 years of age.

In addition, SGMA found that school budget considerations had a negative impact on team sports. Despite signs of economic recovery, reduced budgets are coming into effect as schools finalize their team equipment purchases for the 2009-2010 school year. While the core team business will continue to be a strong engine driving the sporting goods industry, SGMA believes the next 12 months will be a challenging period of time for those in the team sports business.