Sporting and Athletic Goods, NEC

SIC 3949

Industry report:

This industry covers establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing sporting and athletic goods not elsewhere classified, such as fishing tackle; golf and tennis goods; baseball, football, basketball, and boxing equipment; roller skates and ice skates; gymnasium and playground equipment; billiard and pool tables; and bowling alleys and equipment. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing athletic apparel are classified in the major group for apparel and other finished products made from fabrics and similar materials; those manufacturing athletic footwear are classified in SIC 3021: Rubber and Plastics Footwear and SIC 3149: Footwear, Except Rubber, Not Elsewhere Classified; those manufacturing small arms ammunition are classified in SIC 3482: Small Arms Ammunition; and those manufacturing small arms are classified in SIC 3484: Small Arms.

Industry Snapshot

Like other sectors of the U.S. economy, the sporting goods industry underwent substantial change in the 2000s. Computer technology linked sports equipment manufacturers more closely to retailers, and the Internet and other e-commerce tools gave this industry a tremendous boost in sales. What was begun in the 1990s as super sporting goods stores oversaturated the market and squeezed out smaller chains continued in further consolidation. In addition, many of the largest retailers, such as Dick's and The Sports Authority, developed store brands to compete with name-brand products. The trends of globalization and restructuring transformed the organization of sporting goods companies, and the sale of licensed products saw tremendous growth. Additionally, changing demographics and lifestyles affected the popularity of individual sports and pastimes.

Sales in the sporting goods industry increased in the early 2000s, partly due to the surge in demand for exercise and fitness products. Although the American population was aging, much of the postwar baby-boom generation remained committed to staying fit. In addition, growing numbers of women were becoming sports enthusiasts, and manufacturers designed offerings specifically for their needs (rather than simply painting existing products in pastels). Even the government was getting involved, backing physical education with federal dollars. Sales in the industry remained fairly steady throughout the mid- to late 2000s, with shipment values remaining around $12.3. By 2009, the U.S. sporting goods manufacturing industry had reached $13 billion. Of the approximately 1,800 companies in the industry, the largest 50 accounted for about 60 percent of industry revenue.

Performance among the industry's numerous segments can vary significantly as a sport's popularity waxes or wanes depending on demographics, economics, marketing skill, and fads. In general, companies created new demand by appealing to specific market segments. Overseas markets were a source of new demand because of expanding economies and liberalized trade regulations.

Organization and Structure

The sporting goods industry encompasses a wide variety of businesses and products with hundreds of participants. Within a specific segment, however, a few large companies may dominate. In the 1990s and early 2000s, ownership of many sporting goods companies changed hands through acquisitions or mergers. Most notably, in 1996, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. acquired Spalding Sports Worldwide in a deal estimated at $1 billion. That record deal was eclipsed in 1998 when Sunbeam Corp. acquired The Coleman Company for $2.1 billion. Other companies, like Wilson Sporting Goods, owned by Amer Group PLC, consolidated and restructured operations.

The sporting goods sector offers stunning success stories as a new or substantially improved product, or even an entirely new sport, can capture the public's fancy and produce spectacular returns for the originator. But for every Rollerblade Inc. (a company that rode the in-line skating boom), there are dozens of failures.

Background and Development

Albert G. Spalding, the man often misidentified as the inventor of baseball, was actually one of the pioneers of the sporting goods industry. After pitching his team, the Boston Red Stockings, to victory in three consecutive National Professional Association pennant races in the early 1870s, Spalding helped found the National League in 1876. In 1878, he opened a sporting goods store with his brother in Chicago. The company expanded from two to 14 stores within two years and soon began selling products it manufactured directly to other retail dealers. Spalding is given much of the credit for introducing gloves to baseball; after developing a sore arm from pitching, he switched to first base in 1877 and started wearing highly visible black gloves. Cynics have suggested, however, that Spalding's interest in wearing gloves was not unrelated to his desire to sell them.

Spalding also figures prominently in the history of basketball. James Naismith, the inventor of the game, commissioned him to create the world's first basketball in 1892. In 2010, Spalding balls were still the official standard of the National Basketball Association (NBA), as well as of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA).

Another important sporting goods company with a colorful history is Wilson. The firm was originally known as the Ashland Manufacturing Company and was a subsidiary of a meatpacking firm. It sold violin strings, surgical sutures, and strings for tennis products, all by-products of animal gut. In 1914, the company was forced into receivership and taken over by New York bankers. They picked Thomas Wilson to manage the company, partly because of his name--President Woodrow Wilson was then at the height of his popularity, and the owners hoped to capitalize on the association in the consumer's mind. The new firm became Wilson & Company. The firm soon expanded into tennis rackets, hunting and camping equipment, and fishing tackle.

A more modern, but already legendary, figure in the history of sports equipment is Scott Olson. Olson was a 19-year-old goaltender with a minor league hockey team in 1980 when he found a pair of roller skates on which the wheels were arranged in a single row. While the skates felt slow and clumsy, they gave him the sense of skating on ice that traditional roller skates did not. Olson contacted the manufacturer, who had stopped making the line, and bought up the back stock. He put the blades on good skate boots and began selling them out of his house. In 1983, he quit pro hockey, bought up the existing patents, and started the company that would eventually become Rollerblade Inc. While Olson was forced out of the business in 1985, he continued to design and develop new products, including a lightweight golf bag with wheels and a built-in pull handle.

Individual Sports
The growth of in-line skating in the late 1980s to 1990s was truly astonishing. According to one estimate, in-line skating participation grew 634 percent from 1987 to 1995. In 1997, a record 29.1 million Americans went skating at least once a year. By 1998 there was a 22 percent household penetration. In 1998, however, the industry had a bad fall, as sales declined 18 percent. Overall, the market declined 66 percent between 1995 and 1998. Some of the reasons offered for the industry's decline were overloaded inventories at the retail level and the entrance of several new companies. Participation continued to decline in the 2000s, dropping to 13.1 million in 2005 and just 7.9 million in 2009, according to the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA). Hockey and ice skates, on the other hand, enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the 2000s, with sales increasing steadily from $142.2 million in 2006 to $169.2 million in 2009.

Sales of fishing tackle, which averaged about $1.9 million in the late 1990s, jumped to around $2.2 million in 2006 and 2007 before decreasing to $1.8 million in 2009. Participation figures decreased correspondingly, from 46.7 million in 1999, to 41.6 million in 2005, to 32.9 million in 2009. U.S. exports of fishing tackle also declined.

In the late 1990s, some 44.5 million players made billiards one of the fastest growing sporting goods sectors. There were double-digit increases in play by female players, casual players, and baby boomers. The growth of the sport was attributed to increased media coverage, upscale billiard parlors, and families adding recreation rooms to their homes. The 2000s saw smaller participation rates, especially as the economic recession took hold in 2007 and 2008. By 2009, only 28.2 million Americans played pool, and sales of billiards had dropped to $312 million from $574 million in 2006.

Bowling remained a popular sport in America throughout the late 1990s and 2000s, although league play, the traditional segment of the business, had begun to fall in the 1970s, and the number of bowling centers had shrunk. The number of people who bowled at least once a year actually increased in the 2000s, reaching 45.0 million in 2009. Ten years previously, participation rates were recorded at 41.6 million. Sales were virtually unchanged throughout the 1990s before beginning to fall in the mid- to late 2000s, from $181.5 million in 2006 to $154.9 million in 2009.

Team Sports
Sales in the baseball and softball segment were lackluster in the 1990s as participation rates stayed flat or declined. Few adults played baseball, and most of the youth playing baseball were in tee ball programs. However, interest in baseball was spurred in 1998 by the pursuit of the home run record by Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa. Consequently, participation in the game went up 12.1 percent. Manufacturers faced flat sales in 1999, as well as uncertainty over the effects of proposed equipment. Softball has declined steadily since its heyday in the 1970s as an adult male-dominated sport; participation dropped 4.6 percent in 1998 and by 10.4 million from 1990 to 1997. One bright spot was women's fast pitch, whose image was enhanced by the excellent performance by the U.S. team in the 1996 Olympics and whose participation has increased at the high school and college levels since 1990. Although participation in both baseball and softball fell steadily during the 2000s, combined sales of baseball and softball equipment reached $374.1 million in 2009.

Participation in soccer grew 18.4 percent from 1987 to 1997, with some 18.2 million Americans playing the game at least once in 1997. Participation figures declined from there, reaching 13.6 million in 2009. Sales of soccer balls, however, remained fairly steady at about $75.0 million throughout the 2000s.

Industry Challenges.
According to the annual survey of the SGMA, sales of sporting goods equipment increased just 1.7 percent throughout 1997 to total $17.5 billion. The economy was doing well in the late 1990s, demographic trends and healthy lifestyles were boosting demand in the over-40 age group, more women were playing sports, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other pacts liberalizing trade augured well for overseas business. Nevertheless, export sales growth dropped from 29 percent in 1997 to 18 percent in 1998, while imports grew from two percent in 1997 to 11 percent in 1998.

The industry faced several challenges, including how to increase participation levels. Many sports were not attracting significant numbers of new enthusiasts but instead were competing against each other for participants. The industry was seeking to boost interest in sports and fitness activities among youngsters to counter a decline in that market. Teens participated 18 percent less often in such activities in 1997 than in 1987. Young people in general were less active than ever before in the late 1990s and into the 2000s, due to the staggering popularity of more sedentary activities such as computers and video games.

The 2000s got off to a rocky start for manufacturers in the sporting goods industry. The sedentary lives of most Americans, the shaky economy, and the lack of innovation in the market all contributed to a decline in sales into 2001. But the industry improved in 2002, buoyed by increased interest in physical activity and fitness. The Physical Education for Progress (PEP) program, spearheaded by industry association SGMA, was slated to receive $69 billion in federal dollars in 2004, the fourth double-digit increase in as many years. PEP provided grants to communities and schools for physical education teachers and equipment. For individual companies, however, the environment in its particular segment often overshadows the positives and negatives of the industry as a whole.

Fitness Equipment.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Internet, so-called "infomercials," and television shopping networks boosted sales of fitness equipment. While equipment previously sold in this manner was not always of high quality and performance, the 2000s consistently saw improvements in this area, with solid quality and good user experience the norm by the middle of the decade. In 2003, the latest items marketed on the Home Shopping Channel were inversion tables.

Other new markets included products tailored specifically for women. Fitness EM, for example, introduced the Danskin brand of products, which included strength training equipment that was shorter and narrower, as well as easier to adjust, than other standard equipment.

Sales of fitness equipment grew from $3.6 billion in 2001 to $3.7 billion in 2002. By 2003, this was a $4.0 billion segment of the industry. According to SGMA, sales of exercise and fitness equipment continued to rise, and in the late 2000s, more than 25 million Americans had fitness equipment in their homes. Buoyed by the continued desire of an aging American population to keep fit, as well as the involvement of more and more women, this industry was expected to continue growing.

The two fitness machine categories that generated the most sales in the late 2000s were treadmills and elliptical machines. Sales of treadmills reached $1.0 billion in 2009, whereas Americans spent $913 million on elliptical machines. According to SGMA, "Treadmills appeal to walkers and runners while elliptical machines are equally attractive to males and females who want a low-impact workout."

There were an estimated 22.3 million golfers in 2009 who golfed at least once annually. These individuals tended to be affluent, with the means to buy technologically improved products like titanium clubs, balls, and spikeless shoes. Fortunately for the industry, there continued to be an ever-increasing demand for the latest in clubs, balls, shoes, and gloves. Golf remained a somewhat high-priced sport to play, compared to many others, and sales of golf clubs and equipment reached $2.8 billion in 2009.

In 2001, Nike threw its hat into the ring as a manufacturer of premium golf clubs, causing other companies to retaliate in advance through the early unveiling of new product lines. Spalding, Adams Golf, and Fortune Brands introduced new products, and Callaway Golf introduced seven new products.

In the 2000s, the golf industry underwent some dramatic changes. For example, industry leader Fortune Brands offered higher-end equipment through discount giants Wal-Mart and Kmart, simultaneously increasing its market share and acquiring more in trade-up revenues. Fortune Brands subsequently had the highest golf equipment sales in 2000. This opened the door to companies like Cleveland Golf and Cobra, which offered what they called quality discount products. Industry-wide, unit sales went up in 2002, but revenues were not rising at the same rate, as unit prices dropped.

In 2003, in a push to drive up demand for higher priced premium products, the industry turned to technology. For example, a computer launch-monitor system tracked the golfer by laser as clubs were swung and balls were hit, in order to electronically determine the best product for that individual player.

Whereas late 1990 annual shipments of golfing equipment were worth around $2.9 billion, by 2001, sales had slipped to $2.6 billion, where they remained for 2002. This category enjoyed an upsurge in sales in the mid-2000s, when annual revenues reached $3.7 billion in 2007 before dropping to $3.4 billion in 2008 and $2.8 billion in 2009.

Basketball continued to benefit from increasing participation by women, spurred by the formation of professional women's leagues and media attention to women's teams. Moreover, Title IX and other gender equity programs encouraged more women to take up the game. Meanwhile, men age 35 to 44 are playing the game in growing numbers. Innovations include smaller balls, adjustable height baskets, portable basketball systems, and a composite ball. The basketball industry benefited from the relative ease with which manufacturers could add new features and make premium products more affordable. According to SGMA, 24.4 million Americans played the game in 2009, and sales were $239.0 million.

Tennis suffered declines from the 1990s into the 2000s. Tennis associations sponsored programs across the country to promote the game, but participation still slid. Sales of equipment dropped from $318.7 million in 1997 to $313.2 million in 1998. But in 2002, along with the general rise in interest in physical fitness, tennis equipment sales went up. Exports alone accounted for a more than 176 percent increase in export sales of tennis racquets from 2002 to 2003. Sales in this sport continued to rise throughout the 2000s, reaching a high of $439.7 million in 2007 before dropping back to $364.0 million in 2009.

Other Sports.
Canoeing and snorkeling were the first and second most popular water sports in the 2000s, according to SGMA. Water skiing also engaged 5.2 million people in 2009 and generated about $40 million in sales. Freshwater fishing, bicycling, camping, and hiking were the top categories the SGMA classified as outdoor sports, and skiing and snowboarding were the top two winter sports. Snowboarding showed an exceptional rise in participation rates, from 3.3 million in 1999 to 6.2 billion ten years later, although sales remained fairly steady around the $300 million range.

Current Conditions

Sales of sporting goods and fitness equipment declined in the late 2000s as the economic recession took hold. However, in 2010, SGMA President Tom Cove expressed hope for the future and also noted the importance of aging baby boomers and senior citizens in the fitness equipment business. According to SGMA figures, the number of health club members over the age of 55 increased more than 500 percent between 1987 and 2007, whereas the rate of increase for those ages 18 to 34 was just 54 percent in the same period. Said Cove in 2010, "Without the support of America's seniors, the fitness industry would be in rough shape."

According to SGMA, the fastest growing individual sports in the 2000s were bowling, roller skating, and martial arts. Team sports that were seeing strong growth included lacrosse, rugby, and field hockey. Despite the economic downturn, sales of sporting equipment overall remained fairly steady at $24.4 billion in 2009, down only slightly from the $25.0 billion seen in 2007. Imports remained high at about $5.3 billion in 2009, whereas the value of exports was $2.0 billion.

Industry Leaders

Overall industry leaders in 2010 included ICON Health and Fitness of Logan, Utah, and EBSCO Industries Inc. of Birmingham, Alabama. Brunswick Corp. of Lake Forest, Illinois, was among the largest sporting goods companies. The company is a leading name in bowling, and the products of its Zebco division are well known to fishermen. The firm also makes billiard tables, fitness equipment, and camping equipment. In total, the company's recreation segment accounted for roughly 25 percent of sales, which reached $2.7 billion in 2009. The balance of the company's revenues mostly come from sales of boats and outboard motors.

The sporting goods brands of Amer Group PLC of Finland include Wilson golf, racquet, and team sports equipment; Atomic, Dynamic, and Koflach skiing equipment; and Oxygen and Shockz snowboards and in-line skates. In February 1997, Amer completed the sale of its MacGregor Golf division. Amer's Wilson Sporting Goods, based in Chicago, was founded in 1914 and is one of the oldest names in American sporting goods. In 2010, the company had more than 2,400 employees worldwide. Wilson was selected as the Official Football of the NFL (in 1941); Official Football of College Football USA; Official Softball of the NCAA Softball Championships; Official Volleyball of the AVP; and Official Ball Glove of Major League Baseball.

Spalding, one of the most famous names in sporting equipment, makes a complete line of golf and team sports equipment. Founded in the 1870s by Boston Red Stockings pitcher Albert Goodwill Spalding, the company grew from a small sporting goods store to a global manufacturer of sporting goods. The company claims a long list of firsts, including first Major League baseball (1876); first American-made football (1887); first official basketball (1894); and first American-made golf club (1894), among many others. In 1996, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. acquired Spalding for an estimated $1 billion. Brands include Top-Flite and Ben Hogan golf balls and equipment, Etonic golf shoes, Spalding basketballs, and Dudley softball bats and gloves. In the early 2000s, Spalding still had the lion's share of the basketball market, at 50 percent.

Rawlings Sporting Goods Company of St. Louis, Missouri, manufactures baseball, softball, football, basketball, hockey, and volleyball equipment, gear, and apparel. More than 50 percent of its sales are in baseball and softball equipment. Rawlings equipment is used in all Major League Baseball games.

Easton-Bell Sports, formed when Riddell Bell and Easton Sports merged in 2007, makes football protective equipment, including the brand of football helmet worn by most NFL, college, and high school players. The company also produces baseball and soccer gear.

America and the World

The broad penetration of U.S. culture overseas has been a boon to the sporting goods industry. There often is a dynamic interplay between the popularity of the American lifestyle, the star quality of American athletes, and the marketing savvy of American industry. U.S. sporting goods products are thus valued in some countries simply because they are made in the United States. Consumers believe that they are participating in the American lifestyle by purchasing them. The perception that U.S. sporting goods are of unusually high quality in certain product categories also has spurred sales.

U.S. manufacturers also were eyeing South American markets. The restoration of democracy to many Latin American governments was accompanied by better economic conditions, giving consumers more spending power. Moreover, the trend toward freer trade has been marked, as Argentina and Brazil have sharply reduced trade barriers to overseas goods. While Latin Americans have always been passionate about soccer, they have started to take up typically American sports like basketball and in-line skating, where U.S. companies hold an edge.

The manufacture of many sporting goods is labor-intensive, so U.S. companies shifted much production to east Asia, where wage rates are generally lower. High-tech computer systems enable companies to institute global manufacturing programs that maximize efficiency. The move toward more open markets and reduced tariffs also accelerated the trend toward globalization. Thus, companies can produce wherever efficiencies are greatest.

Research and Technology

New technology plays a vital role in the sports market. Consumers are often driven to buy new equipment because of the real or perceived advantages of product introductions. On the other hand, tradition also has a hallowed place in sports, and participants need to feel comfortable that their equipment is in the historical spirit of the game. Additionally, innovative manufacturers can create substantially new sports through their products.

In some sports, revolutionary changes in equipment occurred in the last half of the twentieth century. The traditional wooden tennis racket had basically stayed the same until the 1960s, when manufacturers began to redesign it in an effort to improve performance and ease of play. The introduction of durable metal and fiber-reinforced-composite rackets was followed by oversized and wide body models. More recently, finely balanced rackets that have shock- and vibration-damping handles and new string bed patterns for greater accuracy have been introduced. Compared with the classic wooden model that weighed 14 ounces and had a hitting area of 68 square inches, rackets sold in the early 1990s were 35 to 40 percent lighter, with the weight redistributed for better performance, and had a hitting area of 120 square inches.

Softball bats also received an upgrade. A division of Spalding introduced the Fusion bat; a composite of aluminum and graphite, it was supposed to provide a lighter, faster swing. The SZ1-C from Easton Sports, on the other hand, is made from a rare material used in Soviet MiG fighter jets. Meanwhile, Worth Inc. offered a new line of cryogenic bats, which are first heated then chilled to temperatures as low as -310 degrees.

Intriguingly, engineers also have had stunning successes in overhauling the humble bowling ball. Several new urethane and reactive resin bowling ball shells and complex inner core configurations--designed to vary the ball's rotation as it goes down the lane--have substantially altered the ball's hook as it approaches the pocket. According to some observers, the sharp rise in the number of perfect games--17,654 during the 1992-93 season versus 14,889 during the prior year--was closely related to the improvements in ball designs.

Smart entrepreneurs also have developed innovative products for niche markets. Passengers on cruise ships used to drive thousands of regulation golf balls into the sea. But in 1990 the International Maritime Organization banned the practice as part of its effort to protect sea life. Responding to opportunity, Patrick Kane of Bonita, California, developed a golf ball that flies almost as well as a traditional ball but is made of materials that decompose quickly and can be consumed safely by fish and other marine life. He told the New York Times that "It's basically fish food you can market on the basis of sympathy for the environmentalists."

The sporting goods industry also was improving its technology in the more mundane, but nonetheless important, areas of inventory and delivery systems. Better information systems allowed manufacturers to keep retailers stocked in goods that were selling well and reduce their own inventories of slow-moving items. Manufacturers also could alert stores to overall sales patterns so that retailers could better react to market trends. Sporting goods companies have also worked to develop packaging that is more environmentally friendly.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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