NEW YORK — When it comes to capitalizing on women, the sports apparel industry still has a job to do.
That is what’s indicated in a new comprehensive study of the sports apparel market put together for the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, North Palm Beach, Fla. It’s a market that in 1993 added up to a $32.2 billion industry at retail, according to the SGMA.
The study says sports apparel is owned equally by men and women, with 86 percent of males owning sports apparel and 85 percent of women. However, 63 percent of the sports apparel found in all stores is targeted to men.
The study also shows that men spend an average of $201 a year on sports apparel when buying for themselves, compared to $187 for women. Men also shop for sports apparel more frequently than women, shopping 10.9 times per year versus 8.8 times for women.
The study goes on to suggest that manufacturers can expand their categories of business by segmenting the consumer buying base differently. In comparison with the 63 percent of the product directed at men, women get 25 percent of the effort and children, 12 percent.
Yet, the study says, “women are the largest group of new entrants in the sports of golf, running, cycling, basketball and weight-training.”
“There is a major opportunity to merchandise women athletes as personalities on talks shows, on magazine covers and in human-interest stories,” the SGMA says.
Nevertheless, the survey plays up the pervasive nature of sports apparel in the wardrobes of all types of consumers.
“Sports apparel is an age, gender and economic blender,” says Maria Stefan, SGMA executive director. “Today, it’s not surprising to find a seven-year-old boy and a 70-year-old suburban woman both wearing the same outfit.”
The survey, done for the SGMA by Directions for Decisions, is based on interviews with 1,107 consumers, ranging in age from 10 to 75, in 60 locations nationwide. Interviews were also conducted with retail professionals and college coaches and athletic directors.
Only 8 percent of the consumers, the study shows, uses their sports apparel strictly for sports or fitness activities; 35 percent uses it strictly for casualwear, and 56 percent uses it for both casualwear and sports activities.
However they use it, though, the study says 71 percent of the consumers cite comfort as the most important element when purchasing sports apparel. But, it’s noted, comfort means different things to men and women. Women generally associate comfort with fashion as well as with fabric, color and whether the garment makes them look thin and covers imperfections. In contrast, men tend to relate comfort to quality and performance.
The three top categories of sports apparel owned by women, the survey says, are swimwear, owned by 63 percent; licensed wear, 45 percent, and bodywear/aerobic wear, 41 percent.
As to where consumers buy their sports apparel most often, department stores lead the pack. Among women, 36 percent named department stores as the most frequent venue; 35 percent, discount stores; 5 percent, independent sporting goods stores; 4 percent, national sports chains; 2 percent, mail order; 3 percent, club stores; 1 percent, fan store, and 6 percent, other.
Among men, department stores also led but not as strongly, getting 31 percent, while discount stores got 26 percent. Independent sporting goods stores fared better with men than with women, getting an 11 percent rating from the males. Likewise, men gave an 8 percent nod to national sports chains and a 5 percent nod to mail order.
Dissecting age groups, the study points to teens as the big spenders. Teen consumers (13 to 17 years of age) account for 29 percent of all dollars spent on sports apparel, but represent only 8.9 percent of all sports apparel wearers. They purchase the apparel 22.9 times a year, versus 10 times for the average shopper, and spend $311 a year, versus the $193 average.
The teens are also the trendsetters, according to SGMA’s Stefan, who notes that while they consider comfort important, they are more likely to buy a garment that is unflattering or impractical as long as it’s “cool.”
In general, the study notes, “manufacturers can better increase the number of sports apparel items bought by both men and women by portraying casual situations in advertising.”

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