After posting solid increases in the first half of 2006 sport footwear saw much of the gains slip away as the year progressed, finally settling into a 3.5% increase for the year, according to analysis conducted by The SportsOneSource Group. SOS estimates that retail sales of sport footwear grew 9.0% in 2005 from 2004, a trend that had carried over into the early part of 2006. Overall sport footwear sales at retail were approximately $17.8 billion for the 2006 retail fiscal year through January 2007, compared to approximately $17.2 billion in the prior year period, according to the SOS analysis.

Growth in retail sales of sport footwear for the 2007 retail fiscal year are expected to moderate a bit from the 2006 growth, increasing approximately 2.9% to $18.4 billion.

The estimates by SportsOneSource are based on analysis of retail point-of-sale data compiled by SportScanINFO from over 15,000 retail rooftops in the sporting goods, athletic specialty, mid-tier department stores, family footwear stores, and discount/mass retail channels, as well as data compiled by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, the National Sporting Goods Association, other industry trade sources, and a survey of retail and manufacturers conducted throughout the year.

In contrast to the 2005 results, the women’s business was estimated to have grown at less than half the rate of the overall business in 2006 after posting growth in the low-teens in 2005. The women’s business is expected to be flat to up less than a half percent in 2007 as that consumer continues to move to more casual footwear silhouettes from athletic footwear.

The men’s business, which saw growth trail the overall trend for the year as well, albeit by less than 60 basis points at 2.9%, is expected to see the increase for 2007 moderate from last year as well. Growth in men’s sport footwear was estimated to be in the high-single-digits in 2005. The men’s business saw the least amount of growth in average selling prices in 2006 as it attempted to anniversary the sharp increases posted in the prior year. ASP’s were still up as men traded up from classics to the LFA product in 2006.

The standout performance for 2006 came from youth action sport footwear, which got a nice lift from the hot wheeled footwear category, which barely existed in 2005 and had even less presence in prior years. The category is made up entirely of the Heely’s business, which is experiencing strong triple-digit growth. There was also some movement in pricing in the kid’s sandals category due to the Crocs phenomenon.

Growth in the kid’s sport footwear business, which was coming off of a much smaller base than men’s and women’s, had trailed the overall market growth in 2005, but came in at over 10% for 2006 and is expected to be in the high-single-digits for 2007.

The 2007 year-to-date sport footwear business has suffered through the first six weeks of the retail fiscal year on challenges from weather and very difficult comparisons to the year-ago period when Nike introduced its new 360 product line, Asics expanded its footprint at retail with run product, and performance running in general was on a tear. Retailers surveyed by SportsOneSource see improving trends heading into the back half of the first quarter and are optimistic about performance and marquee footwear product heading into back-to-school. The market is anticipating a turn in the fashion classics business, according to comments from senior retail management at recent investor conferences, and new Nike partnership programs are expected to fuel excitement in the mall in the back half of the year.

Problematic categories in 2006 included walking, cross-training, classics, and basketball, although basketball was a tale of three cities. Basic basketball was down, but retro and marquee product both posted healthy gains for the year. Growth in skate moderated a bit after its hot pace of the previous two years, but action sports footwear in general got a boost from Heely’s. Other key growth categories included outdoor specialty, cleated footwear, lifestyle fashion athletic, and sandals.

Look for a more in-depth analysis of the 2006 athletic and sport footwear business in the 2007 edition of the SportsOneSource Market View report…