For the first time since 2003, sales of sports equipment, gear and apparel in all categories -- per an annual Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association report -- have failed to outperform the U.S. Gross Domestic Product.
Sports gear sales dropped overall by 3.9 percent per the SGMA, while the GDP for 2008 was still barely in the positive at 1.1 percent growth. According to SGMA vice president Gregg Hartley, this is the largest difference in more than a decade since the figures have usually been at least very close since 1998.
Total manufacturer shipments of sports gear, fitness equipment, sports apparel and athletic footwear in the United States (not including licensed merchandise) were $66.3 billon in 2008 in wholesale dollars, compared to $68.5 billion in 2007.
Nevertheless, he added, if figures for more comparable durable goods are broken out, including furnishings, computers, appliances, toys and other segments, the GDP shows a drop of 6.2 percent.
"We think we outperformed the economy as a whole in things that are comparable," he said.
Although the group's sports participation figures have not been finalized, Hartley said it appears consumers continue to participate at roughly the same level as last year. The difference is, they are simply putting off purchases.
"People are continuing to use sports and fitness activities as a way to deal with the current stress in their lives," he said.
Those figures will be released mid-March.
Fitness hit hard
Other than the categories of firearms (down about 10 percent) and fishing (down 10 percent), sales of consumer fitness and exercise equipment and gear was the hardest hit, showing a loss in sales in 2008 of 10.1 percent overall. For comparison, sales for 2007 over 2006 were nearly identical.
In the commercial area, the SGMA shows sales down 9.4 percent, with sales in 2007 over a year earlier only slightly up.
"Buying a piece of fitness equipment is a bigger outlay, so people have put that off or the club just doesn't open," Hartley explained.
In the consumer area, the largest drop per these manufacturer figures was in home gyms, where sales were down 19 percent, and in stair-climbing machines, where sales declined 20 percent. The lowest drop was in free weights at 4.5 percent less sales.
"It's a case of people just making do," Hartley said.
In the club area, stair climbers were also hit the hardest (down 18.8 percent) with upright bikes also showing a larger decline of 16.3 percent. Again, the lowest decline was in free weights, including benches and racks, at 3 percent, with recumbent bikes also faring better with a drop of 4.3 percent and ellipticals with a decline of 5.5 percent.
According to Hartley, SGMA's polls of its members and others seem to be predicting another year of declines. In the consumer fitness area, that could be slightly better at a drop off of 7.7 percent, while the commercial arena could decline by 9.9 percent.
In general, he said, the companies tend to be a bit pessimistic now since there seems to be a shift in how consumers are shopping and buying. In turn, there may be a change to more efficient operations with leaner inventory and not as wide of a choice in stores.
The report with sales figures called "2009 Manufacturers' Sales by Category" is available as of March 11 at www.SGMA.com. The "2009 Sports and Fitness Participation Report," as referenced above, wll be available about a week later.
SNEWS® View: We all know the economy took a huge turn in 2008. A year ago the SGMA had predicted only very slow and small growth for 2008 of about 1 percent -- a figure that would have been welcomed at this point. Nevertheless, this is way down from growth of 12 percent in the two-year period from 2004 to 2006.