Overall for 2017, U.S. team sports equipment sales declined in the single digits, but below the surface it was a mixed bag, with notable pockets of growth.
Baseball equipment sales for the full 12 months were down in the low singles; however, a solid increase in sales during Q4, as new regulation compliant bats hit the market, was a bright spot for the category. The strength in bats carried the other baseball categories with it. This baseball boost helped the team sports equipment market as a whole for the quarter, with Q4 sales up in the low-single digits and closing the year on an optimistic note. I expect the positive baseball trend to continue through springtime, and provide a nice lift for the market as we move through 2018.
Basketball sales fared well, growing in the low single digits for the year, as participation continued to improve. Racquet sports also grew in the low singles, as Baby Boomers are looking for an easy entry and inexpensive fitness activity.
Soccer had a challenging year, with sales down in the low teens. With 2018 being a World Cup year, I expect sales to bounce back.
Sales of American football equipment were down in the low singles, as parental concerns about injury weighed on the sport.
On the other hand, heightened safety concerns have been a boon for protective gear sales, which grew in the mid-teens for 2017. Parents are spending more on ways to keep their kids safe from injuries and concussions while playing sports, and this will continue to be a growth opportunity for the equipment market. Protective gear should be a major thrust for every sports retailer. There are three protective gear makers in the winners column for 2017: Shock Doctor, McDavid, and Battle.
In terms of brand highlights, Rawlings had a good year, even in the face of the changeover due to the baseball bat regulation. Easton could not quite overcome the switch in bat regulations, but I expect it will have a better 2018. Everlast grew on interest in mixed martial arts.
Overall, I expect the team sports equipment business will remain challenged for 2018 as participation continues to slide in a number of sports, but leveraging the growth areas and unlocking new opportunities in the activities that can use fresh attention, will likely boost sales in the months ahead.