Feature Article - September/October 2009

Good Sports

Trends in Sporting Goods & Recreational Incentives

By Emily Tipping


ould there be a perfect storm of conditions driving toward growth in the recreation and sporting goods market for incentives? Let's take a look.

The down economy has led people to pull back on their spending, but has also fueled new, intense interest in engaging in activities with friends and family. And many of those activities are taking place closer to home, because people are choosing to spend less on lavish vacations. But at the same time, those families have less discretionary income to spend on the products that will support that fun.

"With the current recession, most people have curbed their discretionary spending on luxury items," explained Glenn Hickey, vice president of special markets and mass merchants for Callaway Golf Sales Company. "But their desire for that latest equipment hasn't dwindled. Instead they are looking at other ways to get what they want. Incentive, reward and loyalty programs offer a way to update their equipment without spending the money."

"Recreational and sporting goods are items consumers will not spend their discretionary money on, particularly in a down economy," agreed Norma Jean Knollenberg, owner and CEO of Top Brands, an Oshkosh, Wis.-based provider of incentive services and products. "The trend is 'back to basics.' People are more content to stay close to home (staycations). Offering these items as awards supports these trends and gives the participating audience a way to enjoy nature."

Paul Cernohous, director of sales for outdoor product manufacturer Coleman Company, agreed that there's a mood among consumers that has them going back to basics. "Consumers are returning to classic values as a result of the recession," he said. "The shift in values is having a positive impact on activities, such as camping, that promote togetherness. This is exemplified by the increase in staycations, where people are doing day trips or camping close to home."

On top of the economic concerns, add concerns about child and adult obesity and the growing impact of preventable chronic illnesses on health (and its associated costs). This is bringing more people under the wellness umbrella, whether through company wellness programs that aim to impact workforce productivity or through individual efforts to just feel better.

"As people are becoming increasingly health-conscious, we are seeing a high demand for sporting goods and an attraction to the category as a whole," said Brian Rivolta, regional sales manager with Incentive Concepts, a Missouri-based representative providing a wide range of premiums and incentive merchandise for a diverse array of programs. "Sports like golf, camping and cycling are also a great way to connect with friends and family."

On top of those concerns about economic wellbeing and personal wellbeing, people are getting used to targeted marketing and finding products and services that cater to their needs as individuals. Incentive program planners also aim meet individual needs, and there's been a great deal of focus on what interests different generations, genders and cultures. But interest in recreation, whether it's biking around the neighborhood, a hike into the mountains or a trip to the golf course to hit some balls, crosses all age lines, all gender lines and, for the most part, all cultural divisions. Everyone has a favorite recreational activity to engage in. Incentive programs can really motivate by enticing them with the latest gear to make their excursions even more fun—or effective.

"That's the great thing about sporting goods," explained Rivolta. "There is always something for men, women and children of all ages."

Finally, green is still in—way in—and companies of all varieties have been incorporating green elements into their manufacturing processes, their end products and, yes, their incentive programs. Recreational items and sporting goods often give recipients the chance to connect closely with nature, to be outdoors, and while the products are getting greener, they also are very supportive of a green lifestyle.

"Many companies are asking for, and in some cases requiring, a green section in their incentive programs," Rivolta said. "From a sporting-goods standpoint, this trend has encouraged our distributors to expand their offerings and include more bikes and camping gear."

All of this adds up to the fact that sporting goods and recreational items to suit everyone's favorite activity, from adventures in bicycling to zigzagging hikes through the wilderness, can be extremely motivational.

But let's start with the classic sporting good that has traditionally dominated incentive programs—golf.