Chart by Label Networks from the North American Youth Culture Study Fall 2008

In each Spring and Fall Youth Culture Study in North America, as well as our European, Japan, and China Youth Culture Studies, we ask many questions about sports including participation and the sports that 13-25-year-olds most want to learn. The learning question is extremely important because it shows the aspirations of the marketplace and therefore the influences and market potential based on sports as specific demographics lean towards learning it or doing it better, but also associating with the lifestyle -whether they learn the sport or not.

In celebration of Women’s Day, we wanted to point out the on-going market opportunities for reaching women in sports by taking a look at the results from our North American Youth Culture Fall Study 2008, with historical comparisons to past studies about the sports that young women most want to learn. If you look at the charts and graphs to the question, “What sport would you most like to learn?” by gender, as we’ve noted in the last 4 years especially, the percentages among females who want to learn action sports, specifically Skateboarding, Surfing, and Snowboarding, continue to be higher than males. This indicates a stronger market potential for this demographic, or at the very least, associating with lifestyle aspects of these sports through apparel, sneakers, accessories, events, sponsorship opportunities, and sporting heroes within these genres, than it does for males ages 13-25.

Specifically, the #1 sport to learn among females is Surfing in the Fall Study (Skateboarding in the Spring Study), at 29.8% followed closely by Skateboarding at 29.1%, then Snowboarding at 17.7%. In comparison, males rank these sports at 27.7% for Surfing, 16.2% for Skateboarding, and 14.6% for Snowboarding.

Other sports to note for their potential female draw include Dance which is also high for both genders at 10% of females (and continues to increase) and 6.7% for males (which has doubled in the last 4 years). Other interesting traits to note are that more girls want to learn Lacrosse and Wakeboarding than males, and percentages for BMX and Ice Hockey continue to be strong among females -representing other market opportunities. While some sports in the past had more specific gender connections, today’s “genderless” generation, meaning more acceptability for crossover between genders in terms of tastes, style, fashion, jobs, and so on, which can also be seen in sports as quantified here.

While the sporting industry is catching on to the potential revenue found in the women’s marketplace, the sporting industry as a whole is still trying to catch up in terms of educating the chain of distribution in how to reach young women -from manufacturing, to distribution, to retailers, and especially to store sales reps -particularly in the lifestyle apparel and footwear associated with top sports to learn. There’s additional competition to capture the young women’s sporting market via lifestyle apparel because of the challenges from contemporary fashion, juniors, and other crossover categories that are attractive to young women as well. Unfortunately, the full potential of the marketplace will not be realized until everyone within this chain to the consumer understands how to sell to young women when it comes to lifestyle sports, such as action sports.

Looking historically at the results from our Fall to Spring Study ’05, and Fall Study ’05 to Spring ’06, and Fall ’06 to Spring ’07, then Spring and Fall of ’08, it’s clear that Skateboarding, Surfing, and Snowboarding remain among the top sports young people most want to learn (or at least in the top 7) but this is far more the case among females than males (see Label Networks’ historical studies for changes in the male marketplace). There’s a decrease going on among males when it comes to action sports, especially compared to females and the differences are getting wider. While many brands within action sports believe that the market is growing, certain markets are (especially if you look at certain countries in our European Youth Culture Study) or if you look at relatively new locations tapping into the American independent vibe of say, skateboarding and snowboarding in Eastern Europe, parts of Russia, and China, and within certain specific demographics (i.e., females ages 15-17), but this where many in action sports have not been on mark. It’s important to look at what’s decreasing and what’s moving in the opposite direction by increasing and how this is a different market (than the old increasing market) and why. The new generation of young females interested in sports is far different than the older generation of males who were pushing the participation levels of certain sports.

For example, another macro trend in sports, particularly among young females today, is that like music, they tend to mix the sports that they participate in, or want to learn and associate themselves with. In addition, many young women today don’t exactly know the difference between what is considered “action sports” vs. just “sports.” They’ve always had sports as an option at schools or clubs, and activities such as snowboarding have always had a strong women’s presence -from pros to manufacturers. Skateboarding goes right along with participating in Soccer. So what’s the real difference if you come from this perspective between Skateboarding, for example, and Dance? To many young women, most would more closely associate them with activities that are “just a part of my lifestyle” vs. a “sport,” especially if it defines them as an “athlete” (which has taken on an altogether new meaning, and not always in a positive way when it comes to young women.)

Interestingly, there’s a new breed of kid out there and one without the prejudices of different sporting cultures. So-called male sports now have a strong percentage of females who want to learn them too. And vice-versa. The shift in sports are that new subcultures are crossing boundaries and the new active kid is likely to participate in a multiple of sports, or even sports that were once not considered “sports” by the very industry, such as colorguard, marching band, drumline, martial arts, yoga/pilates, or dance. The good thing about the boundaries being blurred is that this creates a market opportunity especially for young females who are at the forefront of wanting change in terms of learning new sports and also wanting to associate with the lifestyle of such activities, which crosses over into fashion, music, video gaming, and more.

For more information on Women in Sports, email; (323) 630-4000 about our Premium Youth Culture Subscription.