Two weeks ago”, we were quoted in USA Today in an article that the newspaper was working on regarding a story that noted Tony Hawk was the highest recognized athlete among young people. This, to them, marked a serious change in sports. At Label Networks, we have been tracking so-called youth sports or action sports since our inception and even before that, personally, as the former senior editor of Snowboarder Magazine. In the article, I was quoted for saying that it’s “not uncommon” that action sports heroes would rank higher within certain demographics than football, basketball, and baseball players.
Sports influencing youth culture lifestyles continue to change at a rapid pace, which unfortunately many mainstream media outlets have woefully neglected. But for our readers who tend to know what time it is, especially in action sports, we want to take things one step further: While USA Today may just now be recognizing the influence of action sports, particularly skateboarding, as we move into the summer season and take a hard look at where trends via sports will be coming from next, we predict that there will be other changes beyond action sports. In effect, action sports have increased among some markets, particularly internationally, but in North America, and among males, they are not as popular as they once were. If anything, the growth of action sports lies within the female marketplace as indicated with higher percentages in our North American Youth Culture Studies among females who want to learn skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing -in that order.
Looking at the results from our Spring Study ’05 and Fall Study ’05, to Spring of ’06 and Fall Study ’06, Spring Report ’07 to Fall ’07 (and soon to be released Spring ’08) it’s clear that Skateboarding, Surfing, and Snowboarding remain among the top sports young people want most to learn, especially among females. But they are starting to decrease among males from Spring ’05 to Fall ’05 to Spring ’06 and again in Spring ’07 and Fall Report ’07. This shift in sports “aspirations” is important because it indicates that the youth marketplace is undergoing a great shift in the marketplace at the moment.
While the action sports industry is catching on to the potential revenue found in the women’s marketplace concerning skateboarding (and sneaker culture for that matter), which is clearly quantified in the results to our Study questions, the industry is still trying to catch up in terms of educating the chain of distribution in how you reach young women, from manufacturing, to distribution, to retailers, and store sales reps particularly in the lifestyle apparel associated with top sports young women are interested in learning. Unfortunately, the full potential of the marketplace will not be realized until everyone within the chain of distribution to reps understands how to sell to young women when it comes to lifestyle sports such as action sports.
However, in addition we’ve seen a general increase in females who want to learn traditionally male sports, particularly Football. And males wanting to learn what were traditional mostly female sports such as Dance -often inspired by street dancing, YouTube b-boy battles, and music videos. Today’s generation is far more “genderless” and crossover is common -which even the trendsetting action sports industry sometimes has a hard time admitting. A 15-year-old for example, has no anachronistic prejudices about playing basketball and skateboarding, or now, playing golf and doing martial arts and snowboarding. The crossover is broader as preferences continue to move niche and the lifestyle crossovers become more apparent.
What are rising are pockets of niche sports and re-introductions of others. For example, fixed gear cycling, especially in urban centers is becoming popular among both genders as more people are taking up riding bikes than driving or even walking. Bike messenger culture, which the fixed gear movement also stems from, is consider credible and extremely cool, which has bled over into fashion with rolled-up pants, cyclist caps, gloves, wrist sleeves, and messenger bags. Streetwear brands such as Mishka for example out of Brooklyn even sponsor an entire fixed gear cycling team called D.A.R.T. Tokyo has picked up on this trend with stores such as Recon that showcase fixed gear bikes in their window displays and gear and apparel to match.
Aggressive inline skating is another sport on the cusp of re-invention with brands and even retailers sponsoring entire teams such as Brooklyn Circus out of Brooklyn sponsoring core skaters from Harlem and Brooklyn, and the entire aggressive inline skate movement in Los Angeles. Other sports to note that are crossovers to new lifestyle associations include martial arts, dance (as noted previously), climbing, and yoga.
So overall, while skateboarding is influencing youth culture (followed by snowboarding thanks to the spectacular performances of Shaun White who USA Today should also have reported on), other sports are moving in and taking up the popularity of what was once action sports-dominated turf. The streetwear associations with them, from b-boy dance battles to fixed gear cyclists, martial arts, and yoga are seeping into this generation’s lifestyles.
For more information on action sports, including fresh data to be released next month, general sports, and streetwear fashion, contact firstname.lastname@example.org; (323) 630-4000 for access to the Premium Global Youth Culture Subscription 2008.