Chart from Label Networks’ “Skateboarding, Snowboarding, Skiing Profile Report Winter 2008-09”

Each year, Label Networks takes a special in-depth look at the changing dynamics of key action sports such as skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, skiing, and other sports by measuring results based on consumer insights among 13-25-year-olds across North America. Topics include measuring size of market and participation levels in various sports, top brands by consumers, pro athletes, events, spending patterns among consumers within various sports, top online action sports websites, online retail, and other results from lifestyle associations within each sport. In our upcoming Skateboarding, Snowboarding, Skiing Profile Report Winter 2008-09 to be released later this week (and available for free to Premium Subscribers), what makes this Profile Report unique in that it reveals where opportunities lie and what’s no longer relevant from a consumer perspective outside of the core demographic of hardcore participants.

Interestingly, when it comes to action sports, one thing we’ve noticed over the past 9 years is that most brands in the industry tend to look at either retail sales data primarily, or consumer data (on occasion) but mostly from the participants within the sports themselves, thus never getting the full, clear picture of the potential of the marketplace on a greater scale by looking at a representative sample of the entire youth demographic. It’s important when looking at any sport to also recognize not only those who participate, but most importantly, the wider marketplace, and their perception and influences to understand the potential of new participants. This is what Label Networks achieves with all of our action sports Profile Reports, including our new one that also takes a unique look by comparing across cultures of Skateboarding, Snowboarding, and Skiing.

As an introduction, this story is about one small slice of the Report regarding influences and incentives that it would take to make it easier for youth culture in North America to buy either the hardgoods in skiing and snowboarding, or softgoods apparel products that represent more of a lifestyle association with these sports. Fresh data collected during this current economic crisis means that the results represent the most accurate and clearest picture of the greater marketplace as things are right now and where the potential lies for this season at the very least.

Topline results (available in the Profile Report) indicate that price is still a major factor when it comes to buying snowboarding and skiing equipment and apparel and is one of the greatest barriers to entry for both sports. However looking at the results by gender, for the case of this story, you can see that 36.6% of males compared with 33% of females say “If the gear was less expensive” as the #1 way that would make it easier for them to buy. This drops to 26.6% of females saying “I have no interest in snowboarding or skiing” compared with 21.9% of males. (However when looking at the results historically, while females do have higher percentages that are not interested, this percentage is decreasing as more females are becoming more interested, especially in snowboarding, and the percentages not interested among males is increasing, which indicates a major shift in demographics in the near future as more females take up these sports and males drop off.)

However going further down the list, it becomes very interesting to note that one of the main deterrents is that young people simply don’t know what to buy with 16.6% of females saying “If I knew what to buy” as a major factor compared with 12.9% of males. What this indicates is a market opportunity to increase sales among both genders, females especially, if only they had the proper information about what to buy. There are other indications of market opportunity with 15.5% of males and 15% of females saying “If there was a store near me that carried snowboard/ski gear,” followed by 6.5% of females and 5.6% of males saying “If I had someone help me buy it,” followed by 7.5% of males and 2.3% of females who say “If I could buy it online.” These final results quantify great potential to increase sales if only proper education, personal assistance, and location weren’t such issues. Most of these elements, especially education and assistance are not as difficult of a challenge to overcome as say costs, which indicates that if brands, resorts, and the industry in general did a better job within these categories, the sports in general would benefit greatly from equipment and apparel sales (and participants).

Unfortunately, like many brands and retailers who work in the industry, and who don’t usually look outside of their core group of participants for increasing sales, the ski and snowboarding industry, including resorts, tend to follow a similar path: They often miss out on opportunities to increase sales within the industry by informing the larger demographic outside of current participants (which is where all growth lies) about what to buy, store locations, providing personal assistance, and/or online accessibility.

To be even more specific, let’s take a look at recent news from Burton Snowboards, the most popular brand in snowboarding. They are closing their exclusive Ronin line, available to top specialty boardsports retailers for the past few years, to launch Burton Restricted -another high-end line available to the same select group of core retailers. Clearly this is an attempt to keep specialty core shops stoked with such exclusivity, while perhaps providing more leverage and freedom to create more progressive styles for hardcore participants and also satisfying team riders by providing a platform for their input at a high level. They are also tapping into the power of Burton branding vs. any other name. Burton Restricted may very well generate new buzz and latitude for the brand as they continue to move towards streetwear for inspiration in design. However, looking at consumer insights data, as we have done in this Report, from a large representative sample of thousands 13-25-year-olds, including those who ride and the greater market of those who don’t (but would like to), the Burton Restricted concept would have a difficult time working in the larger scheme of things in terms of simply getting people to buy. First, Burton Restricted means prices are even higher, and secondly, even more education and information (and personal assistance) would be needed for mainstream riders to buy something so “restricted.” Not to mention that Burton Restricted is probably not offered online.

While luxury items or high-end limited edition pieces have been the course of direction for many brands for years and seemed somewhat recession-proof, even the fashion industry including premium denim brands, high-end designers, accessories, and exclusive footwear brands have taken a hit and are now offering “masstige” programs coupled with mainstream stores -even discount big-box retailers -as a way to succeed during economic hard times.

Of course Burton does provide many different options for different kinds of riders, including beginners and intermediates. However with the economy currently where it’s at, unemployment continuing to escalate, and prices for skiing and snowboarding still far too high for most people, launching limited-edition or restricted campaigns that require more money and maintenance to attract consumers (even if the name is well-recognized) may only provide a seasonal sugar-high for snowboarding’s elite. A small group that’s unfortunately getting even smaller.

For more information about the Skateboarding, Snowboarding, Skiing Profile Report Winter 2008-09, email; (323) 630-4000.