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The Greatest American Teamsports

posted Dec 24, 2011, 12:36 PM by Konstantyn Spasokukotskiy
America is entering new paradigmatic phase - tribal society. It is a prediction by Howe & Strauss that has been made before social media made the tribalism or a re-invigoration of social order apparent. Though, a tribalism in shared opinion, as it comes through social media, doesn't necessarily ends up as tribalism in social fabric. Common opinion is an indicator of sheepmanship. A functioning society requires more than that. Opinions have to be transformed into generation's soul and be worth defending. A proof to the later is regular action. There is probably no better tool to track tribalism than team sports.

A snapshot for the state of American team sports uses data provided by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA). It spans four years from 2007 to 2010. The most significant metrics of a sport would be 1) what percent of total population is participating, i.e. general involvement; 2) what percent of the sport participants are doing it on a regular basis, i.e. core involvement; 3) how does the general involvement fluctuates throughout the years, i.e. involvement volatility. The following chart benchmarks all American team sports that made it over the threshold of 1% general involvement. Only inherent team sports were considered. These sports require regular team work for basic training, offering no escape for individualistic performers. The made-up team sports like relay races etc. are not taken into account.

team sports participation in America

General involvement
is a popularity metric. Popularity is driven by the perceived overall quality of the sport as well as by commercial sport show-business. The more money is flowing within the professional sport leagues, the more popular would be the sport as recreational activity. Popularity is inversely impact by the novelty of the sport. The younger the sport, the less likely is massive participation.

Basketball and football top the list being show-capable sports.

The NBA revenue is currently in the range of $4.1B. The NCAA Division I brings $0.76B in. Assuming that a sports-accented fashion is a promotion vehicle, retail revenue should be accounted as a part of popularity metric. Judging by the share of the generally involved population, the U.S. sporting goods retail industry for basketball makes from $6B to $16B annually. The total basketball value exceeds $11B.

NFL revenue is $9B. High school football has several dozen millions investment capital. Most of it is spent on training needs and sporting goods. Judging by the share of the generally involved population, the U.S. sporting goods retail industry for football makes from $4.8B to $12B annually. The college football revenue approaches $3.2B. The total football value exceeds $17B.

Involvement volatility is the attraction metric. It shows how the participation in recreational activity is stimulated by the outside factors. Success in massive commercial operations and marketing efforts would determine inflow of recreational sportsmen and women. When these efforts weaken, there are not enough freshmen to compensate expected involvement deterioration caused by disenchantment.

The absolute disenchantment champions are football and volleyball. Both have rather extensive requirements for playing grounds as well as minimal viable team size. In addition to that football has high potential for sport injuries - roughly 2 times higher than basketball, i.e. 28% chance vs 15% - that makes it less attractive for viewers, who wanna be players. Both sports, football and volleyball, require significant skills development prior to reaching the point of flowing game and enjoyable pastime.

If involvement volatility is a scale for an advertizement driven participation, the adjusted general involvement, that isn't heated by football being #1 commercial sport, would not exceed 4%. It would place football among the games of mediocre quality.

The absolute true-to-value champions are soccer, basketball and frisbee. The games are most likely better to play than they seem to be for outsiders and viewers. All three sports have an above average potential to be marketed to recreational sportsmen.

Core involvement is the affection metric. It shows how well the sport serves to the intrinsic needs of the participating individuals. The values can be of physical as well as hedonistic nature.

In the later sense interesting observation is that the most expensive sport, i.e. sailing, and the least expensive sport, i.e. frisbee, are in the same ball park. Possible explanation is that the sports are indeed on the opposite ends of a bell curve. Frisbee is not attractive enough to keep players striving for fame and show-off. Sailing is exclusive enough to be inaccessible on a regular basis for the people, who would like to participate. The steady demand is confirmed by low involvement volatility. A better market positioning for frisbee could make it significantly more popular and addictive.

To prove the point that tribal life is becoming more popular and it can be quantified by an associated metric - team sport participation - we will need to wait for a statistically significant period of time.  The listed sports involve today about 38% of the U.S. population. Let's check it again in 10 years.