Sports and Fitness Industry Sees a Long Road Ahead

Beatrice J. Doty

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As states nationwide loosen stay-at-home restrictions and consumers are getting more accustomed to greater mobility, the ath-leisure market and sports industry are also starting to stretch back into shape.

In the second edition of its monthly COVID-19 industry impact report, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association highlighted some hints of progress, while acknowledging companies are still warming up. Looking at the long road ahead for a financial rebound, 60 percent of respondents said they expect some semblance of pre-COVID-19 sales to return in 2021 or later.

Most product categories saw considerable declines in sales from year-to-year, as millions of consumers have restricted their discretionary spending due to the pandemic. The most recent monthly survey showed signs of improvement with 56 percent of the sports and fitness companies saying sales grew from April to May.

Representing manufacturers, retailers and marketers, SFIA’s president Tom Cove said, “Amid the stay-at-home orders, companies shifted quickly to adapt business operations and marketing strategies. They focused their energy on e-commerce, and worked to maintain accessible and relevant communications with their consumers. They also prioritized product that could be used on an individual basis and at home to keep sales afloat. Our industry has proved to be resilient over the past few months. At the same time, it’s tough out there and no one sees the road back as easy or quick.”

As is pretty much the case with most companies across different sectors, conserving cash is essential for sports-minded brands and companies. Dick’s Sporting Goods, Foot Locker and Under Armour are among the numerous brands that have handed out layoffs.

But the SFIA survey revealed that companies see one clear area for growth — investing in e-commerce. More than 50 percent of respondents said they were spending more on their respective sites. Companies are also investing more in digital and/or mobile ads — 36 percent said they were doing just that.

In addition, brands reported improvement in distribution and fulfillment center supply chains, a key ingredient to expediting timely e-commerce sales. Fifty percent of those surveyed said that there were no delays in May, whereas only 32 percent said that there were no delays in April. All the recent indoor time has created a cottage industry of stay-at-home workouts and 30-day fitness challenges. Equinox, Barry’s Boot Camp and scores of other cardio-enhancing organizations are using social media for live classes to try to get slouchers off the couch. Kettlebells and dumbbells can be tough to come by with more people exercising at home. Whether consumers run or rest, the unofficial pandemic wardrobe consists of T-shirts, hoodies and yoga pants for many.

To really rev up activewear, athletic footwear and sporting goods sales, companies are awaiting the return of organized amateur sports and the reopening of health clubs, gyms and fitness centers in a more significant way. At this point, 80 percent of respondents expect youth sports to return in September or October for the start of the next academic year. While public pools have reopened in many states in the U.S., thousands of health clubs, boutique fitness operations, yoga studios and gyms remain closed. The recent survey indicated that the expectation is for more of those outposts to welcome back members next month or in August. Respondents noted that the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine will be integral to the return of youth sports and the reopening of health clubs and fitness studios.

Although this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo have been postponed until next summer, sports fans still have the U.S. Open to look forward to in August.

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