Despite a challenging economic climate, the sports industry continues to go from strength to strength here in the United States.
The four main staples of North American sports – Football, Basketball, Baseball and Hockey – continue to capture the public imagination.
There has also been a steady rise in the popularity of soccer with American viewers tuning in in their numbers to watch the latest MLS action as well as Premier League, La Liga and Serie A games.
How has this growing popularity in home-grown and overseas sports impacted the sports retail industry? How are current consumers expressing their devotion to their favourite franchises and players? What are the trends to look out for?
For the answer to all those questions and more, read on…
The Industry Outlook
Like almost every industry on the planet, sports retail suffered a significant downturn in fortunes in March, 2020. The industry spent most of 2021 trying to claw back those losses and by all measures, achieved in that goal.
All around the globe, sports retail sales have at least recovered to pre-March 2020 levels, with markets here in the United States growing by 14 percent.
What then, are the trends that have allowed for that recovery?
The postponement of major sporting events in 2020 naturally left a void, which many sports fans filled by revisiting their famous sporting memories. Indirectly this appears to have fuelled a major spike in sales of retro and vintage sports apparel.
Think Dallas Cowboys fans, disheartened by the NFL odds, looking online to find a 1995 jersey to bring back those sweet, Super Bowl memories!
It’s a trend that has been picked up by the industry with a number of companies advertising a wide range of retro and vintage sports jerseys on social media.
(Casual 90s clothing has come back with a bang as has 90s retro sportswear.)
The idea of wearing a sports jersey casually is nothing new, but the latest trend of athleisure is rewriting the rule book.
Traditionally it has been men who have dominated the casual sports retail industry, wearing franchise branded clothing in their spare time. Women are now getting in on the act too, but instead of donning the colours of their favourite sports team they are opting for gym gear.
This trend appears to be driven by a desire amongst younger women to ‘look the part’ and appear fit and healthy. As a result, gym tops, leggings and other workout related apparel have seen huge increases in sales figures in recent years.
It’s a trend that shows no signs of slowing either, with major clothing brands now battling the established names of Nike, Adidas and Under Armour for a slice of the athleisure profit pie.
Traditionally it has been taboo to put the name of your favourite player on a sports jersey if you’re over the age of 11. Now however, we live in a world where individual players are more adored than teams or franchises.
Casual soccer fans no longer pick a successful English, Spanish or Italian team to support from afar, instead they support their favourite players. They gobble up Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Erling Haaland merchandise.
Similarly, sports fans in North America are buying up merchandise from their favourite players at a phenomenal rate. It’s not just personalisation in terms of fandom, there is also a growing level of personalisation in retail sportswear.
Gait analysis and similar technologies are allowing amateur sports players to enjoy the same level of personalisation as elite stars.
(A number of brands are offering personalisation such as gait analysis to provide a USP for customers.)
It’s disgraceful how much sports teams charge their fans for the latest replica jerseys and memorabilia, especially when you consider the often poor quality of the clothing and the questionable merchandising processes behind them.
Fortunately many franchises and brands are saying enough is enough and are eschewing larger profit margins by prioritising sustainable manufacturing processes. With the threat of climate change starker than ever before, consumers are beginning to favour companies with green credentials.
Traditional advertising still serves a purpose in the modern world, but with attention a finite resource, brands are now looking toward partnerships more than ever before to grow their businesses.
Under Armour are a great example of this in practice, the company have built loyalty amongst consumers by pairing up with fitness apps like MyFitnessPal and MapMyRun.
Adidas and Nike have launched their own mobile fitness apps centred on running with the latter even releasing an app with intuitive, personalised home workouts and gym workout routines.
Whereas in years gone by, companies could focus solely on multi-million dollar advertising campaigns, they are now being forced to think outside of the box and prove their worth all over again to a new demographic of consumer.
(Apps like Nike Run Club are helping to build brand loyalty with modern customers.)
It has been heartening to see the bounce back of the sports retail industry after the 2020 slump. Not only does it speak to a more fitness conscious public but it also indicates that the industry is moving with the times. The trends mentioned above are just a scratch on the surface; there are many more nuanced trends that are steering the industry. Ultimately, as consumers, we can be content in the knowledge that the sports retail industry is constantly evolving and trying to come up with new ways to prove its worth to us and our wallets.
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