As the world continued its uneven progress in 2023, the sporting goods industry faced familiar challenges. Economic headwinds, persistent inflation, and regional conflicts undermined consumer confidence, while companies continued to struggle with inventories—mainly overstocking, because anticipated demand failed to materialize. But the industry demonstrated its resilience again. Revenue growth in 2023 was 6 percent (compared with 2 percent in 2022) amid stronger performance across geographies.1
As we begin 2024, this report highlights a renewed sense of optimism among industry leaders. This reflects opportunities arising from an improving market environment and new consumer preferences. More people are choosing sports that are quicker to pick up, require less commitment, and are more social, rather than organized sports with fixed time commitments or requirements for teams or high levels of skill. Participation as a driver has become as important as performance. And after supply–demand imbalances in the recent period, companies are turning to integrated business planning and analytics to help them navigate more volatile times. Meanwhile, sporting ecosystems and the demands of sustainability offer potential for innovation. With these themes in mind, this year’s sporting goods report paints a picture of an industry at a pivotal moment, facing not only challenges but also opportunities to achieve sustained growth.
Review of the past year and looking ahead
The past year was one in which regional differences were prominent. Companies in Western Europe posted growth of 8 percent, a strong rebound from the 3 percent decline the previous year, while the industry in Asia–Pacific saw income rise 11 percent after a 4 percent decline in 2022. North American companies followed 6 percent growth in 2022 with growth of 2 percent. Latin America, meanwhile, was the standout performer, with growth of 22 percent after 20 percent growth the previous year.2
The industry’s super winners, which are companies that have consistently grown revenues and expanded margins since 2017, maintained their momentum in 2023. The group outperformed the market by focusing on attractive categories and employing smart go-to-market strategies to inspire and engage with consumers. These leaders exemplified the merits of a balanced portfolio, with retail innovation, trend-responsive branding, and cost-effective manufacturing among the pillars that supported growth.
There were also notable variations in the competitive landscape. For example, competition intensified in China, with global titans losing their edge to local players, which had a market share of about 60 percent among the top 20 brands. Conversely, in Latin America, global players continued to dominate, with a share of about 90 percent amid a strong soccer and tennis focus.
In 2023, macro factors including geopolitical conflict, inflation, and consumer conservatism, as well as inventory challenges, have made for a bumpy year and required companies to allocate more resources to promotional activities. That said, we continue to manage things in our control to the best of our ability and remain optimistic due to the enduring trend of fitness and health and our long-term growth potential, especially given our brand’s strong positioning.
Looking ahead, the industry is set to continue its steady growth: analysts estimate CAGR of about 7 percent by 2027 (Exhibit 1).
Rising levels of polarization
In an unpredictable market environment, a key trend is rising levels of polarization, with some companies performing much better than others. About a third of sporting goods companies have grown revenues and widened margins since 2017, forming an elite group of winners that consistently outperform the wider market. On average, this group has achieved organic growth of five percentage points and margin improvements of three percentage points over the period. Conversely, about a quarter of companies have been margin-accretive laggards—in other words, they have lifted margins but not revenues. About 10 percent are dilutive laggards, seeing strong revenue performance (more than 15 percent) but slightly negative margin performance (two percentage points on average). We expect this polarization theme to persist in the future.
I think the difficult thing in the current environment is that so many variables are changing at one time—COVID-19–related shutdowns, supply chain disruptions, geopolitical uncertainty, and inflation. Getting into this season, most brands and retailers built too much inventory, so 2024 is therefore going to be a little bit of a clean-up year.
Sporting goods trends for 2024
In the first chapter of the report, we highlight an improving industry outlook, with about 90 percent of sporting goods leaders anticipating stability or improvements in sales and margins, according to the McKinsey and World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI) Sporting Goods Industry Report Survey 2023. Still, industry leaders are not universally optimistic, amid persistent concern over inflation and overstocking. Eighty-one percent of respondents to this year’s survey say inflation and inventory levels and cost of capital are a continuing challenge, and 50 percent worry about attracting talent and the pressing imperative to become more sustainable. In addition, economic headwinds may still apply. In China, for example, 2023 marked a recovery from a tough 2022, but many Chinese consumers will likely trade down in 2024 as tough economic conditions persist.
In the remaining four chapters of this year’s report, we dive into the key themes that will likely appear on executive agendas in the year ahead:
1. Shifting consumer preferences and generational opportunities. Consumer confidence remains subdued, but the sporting goods sector has shown it can be resilient, with many companies relatively immune to downtrading. That said, brand loyalty is declining. Also, consumer behaviors are moving away from organized sports and toward options that are more accessible. This pivot presents new avenues to growth, particularly in segments such as pickleball and paddle tennis (159 percent growth from 2019 to 2022) and off-course golf (57 percent growth from 2019 to 2022), which have seen surges in popularity (Exhibit 2).
In addition, there is a generational shift in progress, with some older demographics spending more time and money on their favorite sports and hobbies. However, demographic dynamics vary across regions, suggesting brands will need to craft age-inclusive strategies to suit their constituencies.
Our product range at Nike isn’t just about catering to a specific age group—it’s more about accessibility. We want to ensure that whether someone is a jogger, walker, marathon runner, or just looking to stay active, they find something in our range that suits their needs.
2. Planning, planning, planning. Inventory management remains a pressing challenge as companies grapple with overstocking and demand volatility. The rising cost of capital further complicates the outlook, compelling companies to reevaluate their established planning processes. The key to being prepared lies in integrated business planning, which can significantly improve coordination and reduce the number of surprises. Still, effective implementation requires new governance approaches and cross-functional alignments as well as standardized inputs and outputs. Companies can combine these with AI and machine learning to generate more precise end-to-end planning and forecasting (Exhibit 3).
The last three and a half years for us and the rest of the industry has been super hard on supply chain and planning. … We’re now embarking on a new system for integrated planning. It’s an end-to-end planning system to connect our entire supply chain and continue to deliver the right inventory at the right time.
3. From sustainability targets to actions. Regulation and corporate action are supporting nations and regions in setting and meeting their sustainability targets. In China, the European Union, and the United States, there is increasing government support for funding that will drive the energy transition.
Many sporting goods brands, including smaller companies, are now stepping up, not only setting ambitious targets but also seeking to address social and governance issues in their operations and supply chains. These steps reflect rising consumer demand for more sustainable offerings. For example, consumers increasingly value products that use organic or sustainable input materials—and are often willing to pay a premium for them. While many companies are making progress, others are still at the starting blocks. Ten impact areas along the value chain and specific initiatives in each can help companies move forward. These range from new business models to initiatives that may boost consumer awareness, and companies can assess each of these through the lens of a cost abatement curve (Exhibit 4).
4. Playing the sports ecosystem game. In the wake of some companies embracing direct-to-consumer business models, the past year has seen a renewed focus on wholesale partnerships, reflecting the understanding that consumers prefer to shop in multibrand environments. Going a step further, an increasing number of companies are embracing explicit ecosystem strategies, taking their thinking beyond channel coverage and product assortments. This reflects the fact that technological advancements and health trends are driving a shift in consumer demand from individual products to comprehensive health- and activity-centered solutions.
Companies alone cannot meet all consumer needs. But they can meet those needs through networks of companies that serve some element of the customer journey, from opportunity discovery to planning and preparing, traveling, participation, and recovery (Exhibit 5). McKinsey research shows that the activities within these steps that customers value most include finding similarly minded people, shaping products to their specific needs, obtaining insurance to reduce risks, liaising with travel agencies, and receiving support during activities.3 Ecosystems enable companies to cater to these demands.
The report identifies five levers for value generation in an ecosystem environment: new subscription revenues, lower customer-acquisition costs, cross-selling, commissions, and operational efficiencies.
The past year has marked a period of recalibration for the sporting goods industry, with an uneven recovery and persistent challenges. Looking ahead, we believe the most successful players will innovate to address shifting consumer demands, manage supply chain complexity, streamline operations, and seize opportunities in emerging markets and ecosystems. Through efforts in these areas and a sharp focus on execution, the industry will be well positioned to continue its positive trajectory.
Download Time to move: Sporting goods 2024, the full report on which this article is based.