By  on June 17, 2008

ATLANTA — Sales in the sports industry grew 2.9 percent to $68.4 billion in wholesale sales in 2007, and would have been stronger had not the weakening economy caused sales to taper off during the last six months of the year, said Tom Cove, president of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA), during the association’s Team Sports Show last week.

Cove said in his state of the industry address at the show, which was held at the Sands Expo in Las Vegas last week, that SGMA expects the industry to grow by 2 percent in 2008 to about $69.6 billion at wholesale. The sports apparel part of the industry expanded by 2.4 percent to $29.5 billion at wholesale. This is a considerable slowdown. Since 2000, sports apparel sales have grown by 35.3 percent. Sales in 2006 increased 8 percent, and rose 11 percent in 2005.

Sports apparel has been driven by performance fabrics that provide compression, moisture management and temperature control, according to the report. Eco-friendly fabrics that incorporate natural materials, including bamboo and coconut shells, are popular, too; and stylish designs have made sport apparel fashionable for everyday wear, according to the SGMA industry report. The report also noted that many of these products are at the high end of the price spectrum, and some consumers in 2007 moved to lower-priced goods. Research by the NPD Group found that consumers paid less for each unit of sportswear in 2007 than in 2005 and 2006.

“A big factor which is affecting levels of sports participation is the ongoing attraction of electronic options, which are sedentary in nature, such as laptop computers, iPods, Internet chatrooms, hand-held games, computer games and cell phone,” Cove said. “While these items are dynamic innovations, they do consume large amounts of our life and, as a result, cut into the time that could have been set aside for recreational or athletic pursuits.”

A major trend in the industry is that most consumers purchase sports apparel and athletic footwear to look the part of an athlete. SGMA said only one-third of all sports apparel and athletic footwear is bought with the intent to be used in an active sport.

The SGMA report said the industry believes it will be affected by the weak economy and low consumer confidence this year. In a survey among vendors in the sporting goods industry about their concerns for 2008, slower consumer spending topped the list. Last year, it was gaining market share, a perennial concern, the report noted.

“It’s a good thing that the Olympic Games are being held this year,” Cove said. “Not only will the Games highlight the glory of sports and inspire millions of people to get involved, but they will provide a wonderful showcase for the technological achievements of the sporting goods industry.”

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