In 2020, the sporting goods industry contracted for the first time since the financial crisis of 2007–08. Most brands, retailers, and manufacturers finished the year significantly in the red, despite a bounce back in activity after the first and before the second wave of COVID-19-related lockdowns. The exception was the Chinese market, which continued its role as the industry’s growth engine after expanding at an average of 16.5 percent a year (CAGR) from 2015 to 2019.1 Sporting goods companies saw their market valuations fall in the early months of the pandemic. However, they tended to outperform the wider marker as the year progressed, with sports-equipment makers (particularly bicycle and digitally enabled fitness equipment) doing especially well. Sportswear companies were also more resilient than the rest of the apparel industry (Exhibit 1).
The report is designed to present the latest thinking on themes that will be the cornerstones of the emerging new reality for the sporting goods industry.
The impact of the pandemic goes beyond temporary performance—it has also accelerated changes that will have long-lasting impacts on companies throughout the sporting goods value chain. COVID-19 has ushered in the next normal for the industry, defined by factors including digital commerce, rising demand for sustainable products, and increasing participation in individual forms of sports and exercise. To win in the new environment, the industry needs to adapt both its customer proposition and its operational capabilities.
2020 was challenging, but 2021 will also be demanding. It will offer great opportunity for those who have adapted operations and have the consumer at the center of their efforts.
J. Preston, president and CEO, New Balance
A look ahead: 2021 outlook
The coming 12 months will likely be characterized by a more positive outlook, albeit amid uncertainty caused by an unfolding second wave of COVID-19 and the relatively slow ramp-up of vaccinations. Executives are cautiously optimistic and are focused on growth opportunities: 64 percent of respondents to the WFSGI–McKinsey Sporting Goods Survey expect “better” or “much better” market conditions. The biggest challenges for the coming year are seen in supply chains and COVID-19-related issues, including ongoing challenges relating to physical-activity levels and indoor- and team-sport participation. The greatest opportunities, meanwhile, are associated with the potential return of large sports events, including, potentially, the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the ongoing rise in popularity of outdoor and home-based sports. Categories that did well in 2020 (including outdoor individual sports, home exercise, yoga, e-sports, and virtual races) are expected to remain popular in 2021. Categories that saw a limited increase in participation, or a decline, are likely to make a partial recovery, but at a lower rate than 2020’s winning categories (Exhibit 2). The great unknown for 2021 is the trajectory of COVID-19. Successful players, however, will be defined by an ability to make smart moves to leverage the opportunities highlighted in the “trends” section of the report.
The coming year will continue to be characterized by a lot of uncertainty. We are really thinking about 2021 in a much more modular way. Now we think on a less-than-one-year planning horizon to incorporate much-faster-changing external factors.
C. Patel, CEO, Pentland Brands