The U.S. sports retail business was very disrupted in 2020 and 2021. Earlier trends reversed themselves and different ones emerged. Old habits were shed, and new ones replaced them.

We can expect dramatic shifts to take hold once again in 2022.

First, direct-to-consumer (DTC) initiatives on the part of brands will not abate, even as they negatively affect the brands’ wholesale partners. We’ll see brands shedding retailers they believe do not add to brand value. Doing so will drive more sales to e-commerce, as DTC is primarily done through this channel.

Consumers will remain committed to healthy living, combined with some degree of social distancing. This is good news for the sports industry, but not every category will benefit.

The termination of stimulus money will be a major headwind for the sports industry. Many consumers will have much less disposable income in 2022, than they did in 2021.

The supply chain issues that plagued the industry will ease mid-year; however, they will not go away completely.

I expect that the industry will overshoot demand with supply by mid-year. We’ll see more promotions and markdowns, which will erode the pandemic profit gains.

Sports equipment trends

Beginners will drive sales for the equipment categories, although I expect brands and retailers will remain focused on the elite consumer base. These oppositional forces will hold back growth.

The huge sales gains we saw during the pandemic will hold, but growth will return to pre-pandemic patterns.

Scholastic sports will have a decent first half of 2022, but sales will slow dramatically in the latter half of the year. The underlying trend of fewer kids playing organized sports will rule the day.

Golf and tennis equipment had great sales trends in the second half of 2020 and first half of 2021. But again, those businesses have since flattened out, contrary to outside reports. We can expect golf and tennis equipment will return to more historical low rates of growth in 2022; however, sales will still remain elevated, compared to pre-pandemic years.

The outdoor industry will remain a bright spot for the broader sports business, as consumers feel safe outdoors. Concern for the planet will drive more people towards outdoor activities. “Backyard living” will remain an important trend.

Activewear trends

I expect activewear sales revenues to grow in the mid-single digits in 2022. Riding the “performance-running as streetwear” trend, we’ll see a shift in the “active apparel” mentality; we’ll move away from pure athleisure to more “athletic” looks. Colors will shift from neutral to bright, to align with footwear. Activewear will emphasize performance attributes to support this trend further.

The industry will continue to fail with women’s activewear products. Retailers will turn to private-label brands to make up for this failure. Lululemon will pass Nike as the top women’s activewear brand in the U.S.

Sports licensed apparel worn as streetwear will heat up, driven by legalized gambling. My theory is that with the explosion of legalized gambling, fans will want to give their teams a little extra boost by wearing their jerseys and caps.

Puma, Reebok, and Champion top my list for what I expect will be the hot activewear brands of 2022. Vuori, Beyond Yoga, and Sweaty Betty will be among the top emerging activewear brands.

Athletic footwear trends

Athletic footwear revenues will grow in the low single-digits, after a slow start in 2022.

I anticipate that Nike, Jordan, and Adidas will underperform the market. This underperformance will be the greatest anchor on the business.

Performance running will return as streetwear. This hasn’t been the case for nine years. Puma and On will lead this shift. This trend will require brands and retailers to change the way they bring products to market. Those that don’t make this fashion-oriented shift will face potential sales challenges. 

Running, walking, and hiking category growth will outperform the rest of the footwear market.

Retro will still be an important trend, but it will need new styles and approaches to keep the momentum going. The styles that drove sales during the pandemic appear to be played out.

As in the activewear market, women’s athletic footwear remains the industry’s greatest failure and its greatest opportunity.

On, Puma, and Reebok will be the hot brands in 2022. Lululemon, APL, and Nobull will be among the top emerging sneaker brands.