Catalogers going to extremes

Mar 01, 1999 10:30 PM  By

In 1996, the Winter Olympics featured snowboarding as a medal event for the first time-a sure sign that “extreme sports” have gone mainstream. Another sure sign: thriving catalogs and Websites devoted solely to the alternative sports market.

For instance, when $7 million Fairfield, CT-based Performance Snowboarding mailed its first catalog in 1994, it sold windsurfing equipment as well as snowboarding gear and apparel. But because of the “explosion of participants” in the latter sport, says the company’s Internet/ marketing specialist, Colin

McQuaid, the cataloger decided in spring 1997 to focus solely on snowboarding.

And “snowboarding is still on an explosive rise,” McQuaid says. Indeed, the number of U.S. snowboarding participants increased 33% in 1997, to 4.2 million, according to North Palm Beach, FL-based Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA). The same group estimates that participation in skateboarding rose 22%, to 8.2 million in ’97, and that the number of people who inline skate increased nearly 6%, to 29 million.

Where the boys are The vast majority of extreme athletes are teenage males. According to SGMA, 93% of snowboarders, 94% of skateboarders, and 55% of inline skaters are male. What’s more, 40% of snowboarders, 56% of skateboarders, and 29% of inline skaters are 12- to 17-year-olds. Sporting goods catalogers, then, would do well to include extreme sports gear in their product mix to attract teenage boys; after all, the nation’s 70.2 million teens spent $122 billion last year, according to Teen-Age Research Unlimited. The research group also found that teen boys outspent girls by nearly $6 a week.

Teenage boys are also buying more than sports gear. For that reason, Big Deal Sports, a Phoenix-based online cataloger of equipment and apparel for snowboarding, skateboarding, and wakeboarding-a combination of surfing and waterskiing-has added nonathletic footwear to its product mix, says cofounder Joe Dunnigan.

The marketer takes pains, though, to ensure that the footwear fits into the lifestyle of its customers, 85% of whom are males 17-19 years old. While adding such products to the merchandise mix is “a growth opportunity for us,” Dunnigan says, “we have to make sure we’re centered around the sport and not fashion.”-SO