Overall it was a fair year for the U.S. team sports equipment market. Dollar sales were up in the low single-digits, due to the 53rd week in the 2018 retail calendar. Without that extra week, sales would have been flat compared to 2017.
The big story for 2018 was baseball/softball equipment sales, which grew in the high single-digits. Most of the growth came from composite bats, which improved by about 30 percent. This surge in traffic and sales was, in part, a result of new youth bat safety regulations that required most youth players to replace their bats. On the brand side, anyone making composite baseball bats did well. Unfortunately, the market will likely give those gains back in 2019, and the brands and retailers will struggle to anniversary these sales in 2019.
Golf was another bright spot. After years of soft sales, the category bounced back with a mid-single digit increase. My theory is that this increase in golf is being driven by the wave of retirees. We are retiring about 50,000 people every day in the U.S., and many of them are looking for some kind of recreational activity. One of the top growth categories in golf were complete golf sets, particularly at opening price-points, suggesting new entrants. On the brand level, most golf brands did well, led by Callaway.
The systemic issues for golf and Millennials (covered here) have not changed, but we can expect this surge in retirees to sustain moderate growth for the golf market in the near term. I believe a similar trend is also giving a lift to tennis equipment sales, which experienced a low single-digit increase in 2018.
Basketball equipment sales (just like basketball shoes) continue to struggle. No doubt kids are finding it easier to shoot threes with their thumbs on their PS4, rather than to actually practice in their driveway.
Football equipment sales also struggled, as parents remain concerned about player injury. In my home state of Maine, high schools are having trouble fielding enough kids to make an 11 a side team. The Maine high school association is encouraging schools to shift to eight-man leagues.
Soccer sales had a low single-digit increase. This is typical in a World Cup year, and typically we give back those gains the following year.
Lacrosse, field and ice hockey, track and field, volleyball, and bowling all posted declines in 2018. Combat and wrestling equipment had a solid year, as the popularity of watching mixed martial arts continues to grow.
A major missed opportunity was universal protective gear, which remained flat over 2017. With heightened parental concerns over injury, there is an opportunity to sell protective gear as an add-on to every equipment sale.
It was a mixed bag for the team sports equipment market in 2018. The resurgence in golf sales is encouraging, and for other sports, promoting and increasing participation is a critical component to generating sales.