23 August 2021, by Max-Henrik Fabian, Consultant at the Institute for Research in Retailing (IFH KÖLN)

The German sports market: How demand has changed during the crisis

The coronavirus has also had an impact on the sports market. Why tracksuit bottoms have not led to growth in the sports apparel segment, and the latest growth rates for sports equipment and wearables. 

The sports market is in motion in every sense of the word: it is being impacted not only by the structural change engulfing the retail sector, but also by digitalisation, individualisation and the ‘casualisation’ of fashion and even athleisure wear. A variety of trends and other factors are influencing today’s market. The start of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 introduced a new factor that has turned the fitness market inside-out. Closed fitness studios, restrictions on team and club sports, a premature end to the ski season (case in point: Ischgl 2020) and the postponement of various major sporting events caused – and continue to cause – changes in the structure of demand.


The result: the demand situation in industry markets has changed significantly. Add in working from home, home schooling and a boom in ‘cocooning’, and the result is growth rates in the 19 individual sports markets that range from -34.0 percent to +21.5 percent.


Winter sports equipment has been one of the losers

Sporting goods for winter sports (i.e. skis, snowboards, bindings etc.) are at the very bottom of this range, experiencing a decline of 34.0 percent compared to the previous year (2019). These figures are not particularly surprising – after all, the 2019/2020 ski season ended prematurely in many places due to the pandemic, while the following 2020/2021 season also ended on a down note as a result of full and partial lockdowns. Also not surprising is the fact that ski suits, ski jackets, ski trousers, ski boots and snowboard boots all posted sharp declines in 2020, placing them amongst the losers in the individual sports markets. 


Tracksuit bottoms as a sales driver in the sports apparel market?

The market for ‘gymnastics and sports apparel’ is right in the middle of the pack. Track suit bottoms have enjoyed frequent mentions in the press as the new ‘it’ item for working from home. A sign that they have been driving growth in the industry, perhaps? There is no sign of this effect in the marketplace. Despite the double-digit growth rates quoted in press releases by major online retailers, leading manufacturers of sporting goods such as Adidas reported sharp declines in sales of sports apparel during the first year of the pandemic. The sports apparel market here was unable to make it into positive territory, posting a fall of 1.3 percent in sales. That is because sales volumes in this nearly €2.1 billion market are also closely tied to demand from club and team sports. A glance at the membership figures for sports clubs during the pandemic quickly reveals that they did not number amongst the winners in 2020.


Sports equipment for at home is in demand

The recreational component of the market should not be underestimated. Sporting goods have been particularly popular during the crisis thanks to their ability to offer consumers some variety and a change of pace in their daily lives. In addition to very good results for the home fitness segment, smaller products are also increasingly in demand. This refers to the equipment and accessories for other sports disciplines. The market segment was able to post substantial growth of 9.8 percent in 2020. What drove this development? Sports such as table tennis, billiards and golf, products such as balls and clubs, inline skates etc. Table tennis accessories and inline skates played a big role in the positive results in this market, and they were clearly on-trend products in the first year of the pandemic.


Wearables are continuing their growth

Products related to ‘smart sports’, i.e. wearables, have been extremely popular with consumers for quite some time now. Digitalisation has long since become a key factor in the industry, and the coronavirus crisis has clearly accelerated this trend in the sports market. Although the demand for conventional health and fitness trackers such as Fitbit has declined recently, sports watches have more than compensated. The users of these devices are putting a greater focus on multifunctionality and smartphone compatibility. The result: the market has grown by a healthy 21.5 percent compared to the previous year.


There are clearly some intriguing trends in the market, and we will be continuing to monitor these at IFH KÖLN.

Partnership between FIBO and the ECC 

FIBO promotes dynamic growth in the market for sports and fitness products through its partnership with the E-Commerce-Center (ECC) Cologne, which is tied to the Institute for Research in Retailing (IFH KÖLN). With a programme created especially for the FIBO 2022 trade show next April, ECC Cologne will be offering an exclusive look inside the latest trends, sales channels, and customer behaviour in the sports and fitness market.