Sports fans and consumers have historically bucked economic headwinds and invested in activities that bring escape from day-to-day malaise. Citing our latest Back to Normal Barometer data, we examine the challenges and opportunities facing the industry today.
Last month in this space, I opined about how the leisure sector may be immune to what the majority of consumers deem to be a recession, despite the varying definitions one might be hearing in Washington.
Our research, over time, has consistently demonstrated that for the right experience, in general sports fans and consumers have historically bucked the economic headwinds and invested in activities that bring escape and refuge from day-to-day malaise.
In our latest wave of research, we see paradoxical forces that again may shape consumer behavior when it comes to discretionary activities like spectator sports. Despite continuing to hover around 50%, those who strongly agree that “Today I have to make more difficult decisions about discretionary purchases than I did five years ago,” is up three points from mid-summer, and at a point not exceeded in more than fifteen months.
Those who feel “better off than they were four years ago” has trended downward, to 38%. Two thirds of Americans cite inflation as the top priority issue that will impact their voting this November. For both those identifying as Republicans or Independents, the gap between inflation and their respective number two priority is significant. Adding fuel to the fire, just over half say that current economic conditions will compel them to spend less on entertainment like movies, shows, sporting events or concerts in the months ahead.
But concurrently, the trends remain positive for spending on travel and vacations, and coupling this with some fascinating and positive trends on reprioritization and work-life balance, I remain bullish on the outlook for the sports and leisure sector.
Case in point, those who indicate that they have more leisure time available now than they did prior to the onset of the COVID pandemic is at a new high point since we began tracking this. Those who have greater flexibility in how they can balance work and personal time is up +8 percentage points from last month, and at its highest level since measurement of this sentiment began last November.
One might interpret these findings to be paradoxical, and the logical question is how things will balance out. The answer goes beyond the quantitative data to a deeper look at those emotional drivers that often shift consumer behavior away from a straight interpretation of attitudes on economics.
Drawing from qualitative research, I’m again reminded that value and cost are two very different phenomena. Recent research for an entertainment property reinforced the importance of driving meaningful and memorable experiences with friends and family as a direct, value-building outcome of fandom and participation.
This realization will allow well marketed and executed leisure offerings to break through the clutter and justify consumers’ dollar investment. The boom in “revenge” travel, as we vault past the pandemic, is another trend, and a further illustration of how accentuating that value can allow discretionary activities to defy otherwise concerning economic realities.