Sporting Goods and the Chief Purchasing Influencer

Youth Athletics are Changing the Ways Families Spend Free Time

It’s no secret that kids influence household purchases.

For sporting goods, that can be significant when your son or daughter has an affinity toward a particular brand. There are a few factors fueling this influence, one being the size of the market and its orientation toward non-school youth sports. Another is the rise to meet demand of the private, non-school programs that increasingly resemble professional leagues, with selection and competition at earlier ages.  In the middle are the parents, being asked to continuously invest in the child with deep, do-anything-for-you love and an open wallet.

It's estimated that at least 35 million kids between the ages of 5 and 18 currently play an organized sport each year in the U.S. Twenty-one million are involved in non-school youth sports, which can include baseball, soccer, lacrosse, rowing, volleyball, and gymnastics. The sports are usually organized through local community programs, such as soccer clubs, that are increasingly funded by private business and run by local, regional, and/or national oversight bodies. According to WinterGreen research, the U.S. youth sports market, which includes everything from travel to private coaching to apps that organize leagues, is now $15.3 billion (larger than the NFL’s $14 billion). This is giving rise to new aspects of the market.  Major media and retail companies are investing in schedule-managing technology; municipalities are banking on youth sports and issuing bonds for complexes to lure equipment-toting youth and their families.

While the primary benefit of youth sports is fun for the kids, others include building strong, healthy bodies and personalities, developing team skills, and preparing them for success in high school, collegiate, or professional sports. Sports clubs have helped create a large market from what were, until only recently, disparate parts: people buying clothes and equipment, and loosely organized groups of youth playing games on community fields coached by volunteer parents. Now, these teams depend on tournament play, video coaching, and advanced communication to compete effectively.  

The web has emerged as the key middleman, playing the roles of scheduler, payment engine, and hype machine in one. There are sites now offering scouting reports and rankings for youth sports. Parents and children alike share video via the internet so that family and friends can experience the action from afar. Video capture of game and practice play provides coaches with yet another tool to help players improve on the field. Some of this video even makes its way to being broadcast on the internet (see 

Travel teams are gaining traction in part because they can provide some family weekend vacation fun in the process. As an emerging industry, there’s potential for the sale of not only equipment, but also for ancillary services like hotels, airline fares, and car rentals.

The heightened attention and structure surrounding the pursuit of youth athletics, for entire households, can increase the potential for and necessity of more frequent and expensive athletic-related purchases.

“Decision-making within families today is almost entirely collaborative — and as kids become more influential, they’re impacting purchasing decisions,”  

-Christian Kurz, vice president of research at Viacom International Media Networks. 

A 2012 study by Nickelodeon, which Kurz oversaw, found that 71% of parents say they solicit opinions from their kids regarding purchases for the kids themselves, and more than 60% when making family purchases.

The typical 13- to 17-year-old shopper lists quality products, brands offered, and price as three of the top reasons for patronizing a given retailer. In a study conducted by Touchstone Research, teens said that owning or using brand-name products is particularly important to them in apparel, footwear, and sports equipment categories. As youths mature and develop their own sense of fashion and personal aesthetic, product design can also play a part. Think of the youth basketball player who idolizes Lebron James. Anthony G. Lee of Saint John Fisher College cites Noble, Haytko, and Phillips’ study (2009) and how they use the Socialization Theory to help explain the way the younger generations choose consumer goods, incorporating the ideas of “freedom, finding yourself, blending in/out, brand personality, fashion knowledge, value seeking, and comfort of brands” as intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

Approximately 79 percent of teen girls and 76 percent of teen boys shop online, which accounts for 18 percent of their total spending. Integrating ads into non-traditional media content like social media, events, and sponsorships can provide cost-effective, high-impact ways to reach this target. Youth want to make consumer choices that reflect — and help define — the identities they are creating for themselves. Many reason that “if it’s good enough for a pro athlete, then it’s more than good enough for me.” Equipment endorsed by pro athletes can be a key early indicator of a product’s performance. At ICF Olson, we understood this when beginning our work for Bauer hockey equipment, where we used both professional hockey players and youth influencers in showing  devotional and passionate, yet jaunty hockey life in a series of short films custom-built for the web and social media. This viral, true to life messaging helped us push Bauer from the #4 player in the category to #1. View our Bauer case study here:

The sporting goods industry has opportunities to grow commensurate with the passion of youth athletes and their families. Let’s get going!