The sporting goods industry has opportunities to grow and commensurate with the passion of active youth, youth athletes, and their families.
The purse strings may not always equate to purchasing power: children are increasingly influencing household spending and decision-making in many ways.
There is a direct correlation between the number of activities, sports, and interests a child has, and the number of dollars being spent on goods and services. In the middle of the equation are the parents, being asked to continuously invest in the child with deep, do-anything-for-you love and an open wallet.
That’s significant for sporting goods stores across the country, especially when sons and daughters have an affinity toward a particular brand.
What fuels this influence? The size of the market and its orientation toward non-school youth sports is a factor, as well as the competition and selectiveness of private, non-school programs growing to resemble professional leagues at earlier ages.
At least 35 million kids between the ages of 5 and 18 currently play an organized sport each year in the U.S. This number includes 21 million kids involved in non-school youth sports, including baseball, soccer, lacrosse, rowing, volleyball, and gymnastics. Usually, the sports are organized through local community programs, such as soccer clubs, that are increasingly funded by private business and run by local, regional, and/or national oversight bodies.
U.S. youth sports is a $15 billion dollar business growing over 5% annually. Municipalities seeking to build their tax base, are putting bonds on the ballot for new facilities. Confident that growth will continue, retail and marketing firms are investing in software companies and that offer scheduling, training and new avenues to promote your young superstars.
The typical 13- to 17-year-old shopper lists quality products, brands offered, and price as three of the top reasons for patronizing a given retailer. In a study conducted by Touchstone Research, teens said that owning or using brand-name products is particularly important to them in apparel, footwear, and sports equipment categories. As youths mature and develop their own sense of fashion and personal aesthetic, product design can also play a part. Think of the youth basketball player who idolizes Lebron James. Anthony G. Lee of Saint John Fisher College cites Noble, Haytko, and Phillips’ study (2009) and how they use the Socialization Theory to help explain the way the younger generations choose consumer goods, incorporating the ideas of “freedom, finding yourself, blending in/out, brand personality, fashion knowledge, value seeking, and comfort of brands” as intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.
While the primary benefit of youth sports is fun for the kids, others include building strong, healthy bodies and personalities, developing team skills, and preparing them for success in high school, collegiate, or professional sports. Sports clubs have helped create a large market from what were, until only recently, disparate parts: people buying clothes and equipment, and loosely organized groups of youth playing games on community fields coached by volunteer parents. Now, these teams depend on tournament play, video coaching, and advanced communication to compete effectively.
The web has emerged as the key middleman, playing the roles of scheduler, payment engine, and hype machine in one. There are sites now offering scouting reports and rankings for youth sports. Parents and children alike share video via the internet so that family and friends can experience the action from afar. Video capture of game and practice play provides coaches with yet another tool to help players improve on the field. Some of this video even makes its way to being broadcast on the internet.
“Decision-making within families today is almost entirely collaborative — and as kids become more influential, they’re impacting purchasing decisions,” -- Christian Kurz, vice president of research, Viacom International Media Networks.
A 2012 study by Nickelodeon, which Kurz oversaw, found that 71 percent of parents say they solicit opinions from their kids regarding purchases for the kids themselves, and more than 60 percent when making family purchases. Integrating ads into non-traditional media content like social media, events, and sponsorships can provide cost-effective, high-impact ways to reach this target. Youth want to make consumer choices that reflect — and help define — the identities they are creating for themselves. Many reason that “if it’s good enough for a pro athlete, then it’s more than good enough for me,” with equipment endorsements by pro athletes being a key early indicator of a product’s performance.
With approximately 79 percent of teen girls and 76 percent of teen boys shopping online, accounting for 18 percent of their total spending, the sporting goods industry has opportunities to grow and commensurate with the passion of active youth, youth athletes and their families. The heightened attention and structure surrounding the pursuit of youth athletics, for entire households, can increase the potential for and necessity of more frequent and expensive athletic-related purchases.
But businesses and households alike cannot forget that their most powerful influencer is sometimes not the one with the wallet.