Online to take a bigger piece of the sports retail pie, says BCG

19 May 2021 3 min. read
More news on

Online platforms accounted for 25% of global spending on sports equipment last year – including clothes and wearable technology. A new study by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Signa Sports United tracks trends in one of the world’s fastest growing industries. 

Sport is in: as many as 3.5 billion people around the world are expected to engage in some form of sports at least once a month by 2025 – up from just over 2.5 billion at the moment. Several “megatrends” are driving this growth – as laid out by researchers at BCG and Signa Sports United.

These include health awareness among global consumers; increasing female participation in sports; government and corporate incentives for active lifestyles; and a boom in viewership across major global sporting events such as the Olympics and the Football World Cup. These factors have only been boosted by the pandemic and its impact on consumer behavior.


“Forty-seven percent of people have focused more on health and wellness during the crisis and 55% expect to maintain this habit,” noted Volker Haemmerle, a Munich-based managing director and partner at BCG. “Not only do people spend more time, but also more money on their sports activities.”

Indeed, the global sports industry is currently worth over $1 trillion according to the report – nearly half of which is spread across retail in sportswear, equipment, and supplemental technology such as Fitbits and other wearables. By 2025, sports retail spend will cross $650 billion – growing at a compound annual growth rate of 7%.

Online boom

According to Haemmerie, online retail will likely grab all the headlines. “In 2020, every fourth dollar on sportswear, equipment, or technology was spent online. E-commerce sales are expected to grow 2.6 times faster than sales at brick-and-mortar stores.”

This assessment is backed by the numbers. BCG and Signa Sports United surveyed 16,000 global consumers across the US, Europe, and Asia-Pacific for a nuanced picture of where sports retail is headed. A steady climb in sports e-commerce is visible, marked by a more than 10% CAGR across regions.

In the US, online will take up as much as 40% of sports retail sales by 2025 – growing at a CAGR of 14%. For retailers, the imperative now is to tailor strategies to unique trends across various sporting verticals.

For instance, equipment-light sports such as football, running or swimming have low volume that can be supplied using in-house, direct-to-consumer (DTC) e-commerce platforms. Sports retail giants such as Nike and Adidas have already set up a robust DTC infrastructure, which will likely account for half of all sales midway through this decade.

That said, consumers revealed a higher tendency to look online for equipment-heavy sports such as biking or golf. With high demand and high volume, heavy equipment brands should consider partnerships with full-service e-commerce platforms according to researchers – to ensure speed and scale of delivery.

Haemmerie points out how both strategies will likely run hand-in-hand for the next few years, paving way for a vibrant industry. “Brands push their direct-to-consumer efforts, large online generalist platforms keep expanding, and online vertical specialists are growing rapidly.”

“Ultimately, there are two winning strategies for any sports retailer: Be the largest or be an (online) category champion," he added. "The market landscape is still highly fragmented, leaving room for ongoing consolidation including M&A moves, especially to drive scale and platform synergies in a buy-and-build approach in the next years."