We’re in for “the most normal spring sports season in three years,” says The NPD Group, a consumer research company. It reports that first-quarter sales of baseball, lacrosse, soccer, and racquet sports equipment increased 19% from Q1 2021 and 35% from Q1 in pre-pandemic 2019.
Matt Powell, senior sports industry advisor at NPD, attributes the growth to schools being back in session this year versus last year’s virtual schooling in much of the country. Powell says, “Kids are back on the field, which means parents are buying sports equipment. Leagues that were limited during the pandemic are also back in action, translating to more players buying equipment.”
Racquet sports equipment led the way, with lacrosse equipment sales up 72%. And underscoring the “the importance of safety in contact sports,” lacrosse protective gear sales rose 114%.
Baseball and softball equipment sales revenue grew 19% in the first quarter, across all product categories, including bats, balls, gloves and mitts, protective gear, and training aids. Sales of soccer equipment rose 10%, propelled by soccer ball sales.
Specifically, the surge in racquet sports equipment sales was led by pickleball. NPD Group says, “sales revenue from pickleball paddles and balls together grew 53%, as tennis racquet and ball sales declined.”
At the moment, pickleball is most popular with the nation’s baby boomers, although, according to NPD Checkout data, the sport is gaining popularity with older millennials, Powell cautions, “While these results bode well for the sporting goods industry, we should anticipate that the trendlines will return to more typical rates as we move through the remainder of the year and routines continue to fall back into place.”
Don’t underestimate the growth, however. Last year, The Economist said pickleball was “the fastest growing sport in America,” with more than 4.2 million participants. And schools are adding pickleball to their physical education classes.