Are Sports And Leisure Activities Becoming More Recession-Proof?

Consumers polled said a stronger emphasis on leisure time, travel and a desire to spend more time out of the home were at the top of the list.

I’m a marketing researcher, not an economist, but it doesn’t take a review of what I learned at Wharton to recognize incredibly conflicting data in the marketplace.  Many signs that we see from the vantage point of consumer opinion suggest that things should be rough right now in the sports and leisure sectors, yet COVID liberation, and what I defined as “The Great Reprioritization” a few months ago in this space, seem to be rebuffing the economic thunderheads.

First, the Bad News

Politicians can argue about what defines a recession, but 57% of consumers in our July study strongly agreed that we were in one.  That’s up +7 points from June and the highest we’ve seen since the early months of the pandemic in data collected prior to the release of second quarter GDP figures.

A new high of 70% agree that they are spending less on multiple items in response to price increases, with 75% indicating that prices for consumer items are higher than they were pre-COVID.  And 81% agreed with the statement that “I’m more budget conscious today than I was two years ago.”

While the latest data shows that nearly everyone has returned to pre-pandemic leisure activities, 56% agree that the resumption of normal activities limited during the height of the pandemic has been underwhelming relative to expectations. That’s the highest percentage of low-level disappointment we’ve seen since last October.

Defying Logic?

The above would typically sound alarm bells for leisure marketers, and perhaps they are a foreshadowing of what may still lie ahead of us.  But some of our other work is showing how sports and leisure activities may be transcending the glum economic data.

We continue to see numerous reports that suggest work-life balance and flexibility continue to rule the day, opening the door for more leisure activity.   In our latest data, the percentage of those who strongly value the ability to work at home (49%) is at its highest level since February, while only 42% are presently working exclusively in their usual dedicated workplace outside the home.

In a separate recent study conducted with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, we found half of those who left or lost jobs during the pandemic and remain unemployed, indicate that they are not willing to take jobs that do not offer the opportunity for remote work.

But most telling is data with 82% agreeing that the pandemic has “significantly transformed how we live in America.” Delving further into the “how,” a stronger emphasis on leisure time, travel and a desire to spend more time out of the home were at the top of the list.  Work and career lagged behind.

Couple these findings with bullish recent quarterly earnings and comparative sales figures for a number of sporting goods manufacturers and ticket sellers, and the implication is that people are indeed walking the talk despite the macro economy.  Maybe people are trying to escape the bad news.  Maybe the phenomenon is more foundational.  Sports marketers need to better understand what defines an optimal customer experience, and seize the opportunity.