Fuse Explores the Surge in Sports Participation: Why Teens Play and Why They Dont

In the past decade, there have been frequent reports
about the decline in sports participation. But in a reverse of that
trend, the Sports
& Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) recently revealed sport
participation is growing again. While the SFIA study details what participants
are playing, we thought it important to understand why the growth
is occurring, so in June 2018 Fuse surveyed 2,000 US teens to find out.

The Fastest Growing Sports and Why Teens Play ThemAccording
to the SFIA, the five fastest growing sports are:

In some cases, the growth of these sports has been due to expanding its
geographic footprint. For instance, lacrosse, a sport traditionally most
popular in the Eastern US, can largely attribute its growth by way of
its Western expansion. To further promote this growth, the NCAA recently
approved a $1.3
million-dollar budget to expand Division II men’s and women’s lacrosse
tournaments in 2019, adding conferences and reworking regions to
encourage additional growth in the Western US.

The increased visibility of rugby has been central to its growth for the
last several years. In 2016, the sport reported an increase in US high
school athletes playing rugby ten times more than the decade prior.
Today, there are over 800 college teams in America. Prominent events
have likely contributed to this rapid growth, including the All
Blacks visit to Chicago
in 2014, the debut of rugby sevens at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and
USA’s hosting of the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens Tournament in San

In Fuse’s study, these five fastest growing sports correlated most
closely with why teen say they choose to play sports. Those top three
reasons are:

While sports like track & field, swimming, and baseball remain popular,
they did not correlate as strongly with “fun, exercise, or success” in
our study.

Participation at an All-Time High, But Why Teens Quit If They DoTotal
high school athletics participants reached an all-time high in 2017 at
nearly 8 million, with increases reported across both boys’ and girls’
programs. Today, more than 60 sports are offered by public high
schools in the US, with basketball topping the list as the most popular
boys’ and girls’ sport. For girls, the three most popular programs were
basketball, track & field, and volleyball. And although football remains
the No. 1 participatory sport for boys at the high school level, the
number of participants had a small decline, even with the increase in
total number of schools offering the sport.

While it’s certainly great news that high school sports participation is
up, it’s also important to understand (and try to correct) why so many
teens quit playing sports. The top three reasons teens stop playing
sports are:

These explanations easily outnumbered the often-discussed reasons like
over-involved parents, large time commitment, and costs of playing.
Again, we perceive this as relatively good news, as it seems that teens
are leaving sports for similar reasons they stop participation in other
extracurricular activities. If that’s the case, youth and high school
sports programs don’t appear to be any more “flawed” than music, the
debate team, or the student newspaper.

The Critical Role of the Casual ParticipantA key factor in
2017 sports participation growth was “casual” participants. SFIA defines
casual participation as playing as little as one time per year. Casual
sports participation 2017 growth included:

While casual sport participation may not seem as important as “core”
participation (core participation is defined differently for each sport,
but high school team sports is an example of core), it’s key to the
overall health and physical fitness of Gen Z. Nearly 60% of our survey
respondents consider themselves casual participants – and most are
participating in three or more sports throughout the year.

Taking ActionTo create and activate the most relevant
experiences for youth and teens, brands need to understand the cultural
shifts happening across the sports landscape. From regional sports
growing nationwide to reaching casual participants, the time is now for
brands to capitalize on surging and emerging sports.

us to learn more about teens and young adults or visit our Thought
Leadership blog.

About FuseFuse
is an independent agency that creates authentic brand engagement for
teens and young adults. We specialize in content, campus, influencers,
sports, music and retail while providing services across brand strategy,
social, creative and experiential. Our staff, led by partners Bill
Carter, Issa Sawabini and Brett Smith, is comprised of experienced
marketing professionals and cultural experts who maintain unrivaled
attention to authenticity. For more about Fuse, check out our website or
find us on Instagram, Twitter,
and LinkedIn.

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