Social networking is impacting sports participation patterns in the United States - particularly for people between the ages of 12 and 30, commonly referred to as "Generation Y." According to the 2011 Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association's "Sports & Fitness Participation Topline Report," the approach of Generation Y toward athletic activity and exercise is changing because of the influences (though perhaps subtle) of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and texting. That's why marketing to this group of users is more important than ever.
Individuals born between 1980 and 1999 outnumber both Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1964) and Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979) in every area of sports participation: individual sports, racquet sports, team sports, outdoor sports, winter sports, water sports and fitness sports. The most popular Generation Y category is fitness sports; 51.3 million are engaged in some type of fitness-oriented pursuit, and as a result of their strong social attitudes, they gravitate toward group exercise. Since 2009, group cycling, cardio tennis and high-impact aerobics have all experienced double-digit gains in overall participation, according to the survey.
"The social mind-set of Generation Y is the reason why health club memberships are picking up and group-oriented exercise classes are gaining in popularity," says SGMA president/CEO Tom Cove. "Generation Y enjoys working out and exercising with friends, whereas Generation X has been focused more on individual pursuits. For Generation Y, it's as much about the socialization as it is the perspiration."
Social networks, both real and virtual, also are being credited at least in part for increased participation in triathlons and adventure racing. Since 2009, overall participation is up 63.7 percent in traditional triathlons, up 39.5 percent in nontraditional triathlons, and up 23 percent in adventure racing, according to SGMA's survey.
"It appears that this trend is tied to a basic desire to belong to a group and identify with a team or club," says Steve Furniss, founder of TYR Sport, a manufacturer of products and accessories for swimming and endurance sports. "The triathlon is unique in its ability to couple a person's fitness routine with a strong sense of community and social interaction, particularly for those not inclined to traditional sports. Other appeal factors include the fact that it is an adult sport, it appeals to both genders, it offers training diversity and has the cachet of being the latest 'Everest' fitness endeavor, much like accomplishing a marathon was for many in the 1970s and 1980s. However, unlike a marathon, triathlons and adventure racing have so many formats that it can encompass a greater participant base. Triathlons and adventure racing offer social interaction and a sense of community while providing the ability to stay fit. That's a powerful formula."
In team sports, many traditional endeavors such as outdoor and indoor soccer, tackle football, baseball, basketball, cheerleading and court volleyball have experienced small degrees of growth in overall participation since 2009 - reversing a recent trend. The other good news is that overall participation in some niche team sports has shown dramatic increases since 2009. Those include rugby (up 50.7 percent), lacrosse (up 37.7 percent), field hockey (up 21.8 percent) and beach volleyball (up 12.3 percent).
This year's "Sports & Fitness Participation Topline Report" includes overall participation figures for 119 sports in 14 different categories. The most popular sports and activities (as measured by people who participate at least once a year in any given activity) have a strong focus on fitness, as evidenced by four of the top five activities:
1. Walking for Fitness (114.1 million participants)2. Bowling (55.9 million)3. Treadmill (53.1 million)4. Running/Jogging (49.4 million)5. Hand Weights (45.9 million)
Finally, in a survey of non-sports participants, respondents indicated that they would be most interested in participating in weight training.
Copies of the 2011 "Sports & Fitness Participation Topline Report" are available from SGMA.