Fitness and Outdoor Participation Is Up — but Footwear Brands Aren’t Capitalizing

The Sports & Fitness Industry Association released its annual participation report today, and it showed that more people were active in 2018 than in years past.

According to the report, 218.5 million people engaged in a physical activity in 2018, an increase of 1.6 million from 2017. The biggest increases in participation came in the fitness and outdoor-based categories.

Among fitness enthusiasts, the report found that class-based exercises were popular (HIIT training, cross-training, barre and yoga) as well as cardio equipment usage (rowing and stair-climbing machines) and kettlebell workouts.

For outdoor fans, trail running was a leading activity. Others that people engaged in with greater frequency included cross-country skiing, stand-up paddling and hiking.

But according to Matt Powell, senior sports industry analyst for The NPD Group Inc., brands aren’t capitalizing off of the increased participation. The insider believes it’s because brands are too focused on making top-tier product.

“Making more affordable product, not focusing on the pinnacle product, is really key,” Powell said. “Athletic brands are far too focused on making expensive products that are meant for pinnacle athletes only. In many cases the people who are doing sports today are not looking for pinnacle products, they’re looking for good enough products. I think the same story applies to the outdoor world as well.”

However, if past trends discovered at Outdoor Retailer events is an indication of what’s to come, Powell may see the good products at palatable price points that he believes the industry needs. In July during the Summer Market presentation in Denver, top brands in the industry showed styles boasting performance features at a lower retail price, as well as multisport footwear styles ready for multiple activities, eliminating the need for multiple pairs of shoes.

While participation is up, the SFIA did highlight a glaring problem: inactivity in lower income homes. The organization found that roughly half the homes making less than $25,000 per year were totally inactive in 2018.

“We remain very concerned with the strong link between income disparity and physical activity rates,” said SFIA president and CEO Tom Cove said in a statement. “Our society cannot allow sports and physical activity to be available only to those with the most means to pay for it.”

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