Sustaining the Outdoor Industry

Sustaining the Outdoor Industry Through Casual Participation?
from The Fishing Wire

The latest Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) topline report on sports, fitness and leisure activities seems to quantify what many in the outdoor industry have long suspected: overall, the recreational industry is seeing a significant amount of its growth coming from casual participants, not expansion of core participants.

Outdoor sports showed modest increases. Camping -the RV kind- grew by 7.9 percent. That was offset by a decline in “core” camping – the kind done more than 1/4 mile from your vehicle. It declined 4.6 percent.

Fly fishing lead the hunting/fishing category, with a 6.0 percent increase. Both fresh and saltwater fishing gained as well, showing increases of 1.2 and 2.4 percent, respectively.

Hunting (all categories) was flat, showing only a .2 percent increase-although that slight increase represents a continued growth over the past five years.

Both rifle and bow hunting categories dropped slightly, but shotgun hunting lost the most ground (2 percent), wiping out its gains over the past four years.

Sporting clays gained 2 percent- despite the fact that core participants (shooting more than 8 times a year) declined 8.8 percent in the SFIA survey.

Trap/skeet gained ground (up 5.3 percent) and target shooting (handgun) gained nearly 3 percent (2.9 percent).

The SFIA report seems to confirm that it’s “outreach” sports – the ones making efforts to reach youth with organized activities and opportunities- that are making the largest gains. That seems to hold true in their team sports categories as well.

It’s worth noting that not many categories showed core growth- including those with significant outreach efforts. Their growth confirms the essentialness of outreach – but may imply that the all-important conversion from “casual” to “core” participant isn’t happening. If that’s the case, there seems to be a need for a mid-step- a set of activities designed to further engage participants while they learn the skills and (in some cases) acquire the equipment necessary to bring them into the core constituencies. Only one outdoor category, rifle shooting, actually showed the gain in their core constituency.

On the water, standup paddling is a shining star. Last year’s participation was up 6.6 percent- and over the past five years, there’s been a 23.3 percent increase in SUP participation.

Kayaking’s up as well.

With overall participation numbers largely the same, the gains seem to have come at the expense of two other formerly hot activities: rafting and jet skiing. Both lost significant participant numbers. (Rafters declined 11.7 percent, jet skiing lost 7.7 percent of its participants).

On the surface, the red-hot archery category seemed to slow, declining 5.7 percent over last year, but that’s not really the case. Over the past five years, overall participation is actually up an average of 4.3 percent.

It’s important to note that sports where with the largest gains include are a growing number of opportunities for young people to try them. Archery’s gains can be attributed to their growing youth competition programs (NASP and S3DA, among others), as can those of shooting sports (SCTP and SASP under the SSSF) and fishing (high school bass leagues).

The overall good news? As a whole the United States was more active in 2016.

The exceptions were adults in the 45-54 age category and households with incomes under $50K. Both those showed slight decreases in activity.

There’s no explanation offered for the decline in lower-income households, but the 45-54 age category is generally considered the one where the body’s inevitable slowdown means either a slowdown in participation in high-demand sports- or a shift to less-demanding activities.

No stunning conclusions can be drawn from the numbers, but they do seem to reinforce the accepted fact that outreach is essential to keep any sport or recreational activity relevant with potential participants.

Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in learning more about the 2017 Sports, Fitness and Leisure Activities Topline Report, it’s available for purchase (free to SFIA Members) at