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‘Clear Opportunities’ Exist for Post-Covid Sports Retail: NPD Group

Though the first coronavirus vaccine finally began rolling out in the United States last week, the question of what a post-Covid world will look like remains tough to answer.

Despite this haziness, Matt Powell, vice president and senior industry advisor, sports at NPD Group, said he sees “clear opportunities for sports retail as we emerge from the pandemic.”

“At a high level, I strongly believe that U.S. consumers will be re-engaged and re-committed to living healthy lifestyles,” Powell wrote in a blog post NPD published Wednesday. “Many will see healthy living as a way to hinder illness in the future. This is very good news for the sports industry.”

While fashion footwear sales dropped 28 percent year over year in the third quarter, the performance category slipped a much shallower 9 percent, in part due to the delayed/virtual back-to-school season, according to data NPD released in late October. Looking at the individual categories, athletic footwear, sport lifestyle, skate and basketball shoes all came in lower than last year.

At the same time, Powell said hiking experienced a “substantial” sales increase. And although running shoes declined in the low single-digits, he said the dip represented “the best quarterly performance in some time.”

Nike introduced the Pegasus Trail 2 Gore-Tex running shoe in October.
Nike introduced the Pegasus Trail 2 Gore-Tex running shoe in October. Nike

Additionally, while NPD reported a decline in running shoe sales, several brands have seen notable jumps in sales during the pandemic. In the second quarter of the 2021 fiscal year, Deckers Brands said its running-focused Hoka One One brand experienced an 83.2 percent jump in net sales. Asics North America reported year-over-year performance running footwear growth in the mid-teens in the third quarter. Thanks to gains in new runners, Brooks Running posted a 49 percent year-over-year jump in global revenue in Q3.

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With an additional month and a half of perspective, Powell said, “we can expect performance running, hiking “and to a lesser extent, trail running to outperform the overall market.” Consumers next year will be more practical and seek value and versatility, he added.

“Frivolous fashion, like ‘dad shoes’ are likely over,” he said.

“Brands and retailers that offer credible, moderately priced products and keep beginners in mind can win here,” Powell continued. “I also think we will see performance running return to fashion. Consumers will want to look as though they are staying fit, regardless of whether or not they are. Comfort footwear brands and products will remain strong.”

In active apparel, Powell said versatility, performance and comfort will remain the winning combination. “Sports bras, fleece and sweatpants rule the day,” he added. The data appear to support this outlook. Retail market intelligence platform Edited reported earlier this month an 81 percent year-over-year leap in sweatpants sellouts.

Outdoor equipment sales also offer some insight into the type of footwear and apparel consumers may be looking to buy. Not too surprisingly, sports that allow for social distancing generally performed better in the third quarter.

According to NPD, the golf equipment business jumped by more than 75 percent. Comparing this November to last year’s, swinging and putting mats sales shot up 292 percent.

Ireland Baldwin wears sweatpants to take her dog to the groomers.
Ireland Baldwin wears sweatpants to take her dog to the groomers. Earlier in December, Edited reported an 81 percent year-over-year leap in sellouts of the comfy bottoms. GAC / MEGA

Bicycle sales, meanwhile, grew by more than 50 percent in the third quarter. In October, NPD said transit/fitness bikes grew 126 percent. Personal fitness, in general, appears to be a continuing priority for stay-at-home consumers, with weights sales leaping 141 percent year-over-year in November.

The great outdoors also continued to be a source of escape into the fall. Camping equipment performed well, growing by more than 25 percent, in the third quarter. Snowshoes sales took off, growing 279 percent in October compared to the same period last year.

“People continue to invest heavily in sports and fitness equipment products that allow for at-home activity,” Dirk Sorenson, executive director, industry analyst, said in a statement. “Stepping into winter, snowshoe sales in particular are interesting to me as the exploding growth there points to consumers investing in new ways to get outside during these socially distant times.”

Meanwhile, team youth sports equipment categories floundered, with the exception of baseball, which was up about 20 percent. Climbing equipment sales, while robust prior to the pandemic due to the popularity of indoor climbing clubs, declined in the low teens.

Looking to 2021, Powell predicted “sports equipment for activities to keep us fit while remaining socially distant will outperform the overall sports retail market. We can expect great results in golf, racquet sports and cycling. But again, greater focus should be placed on the new entrant rather than the elite user, without overselling the beginner’s competencies. In addition, if schools are back in session next year, scholastic sports should have a banner season.”