How COVID-19 Affected the Popularity of Golf, Cycling & Skiing
During COVID, the popularity of many outdoor activities grew dramatically, as consumers pivoted to spend more time outdoors. Growth strategy examples included camping, golfing, cycling and skiing, to name just a few. The opportunities for brands and industries that enjoyed this growth was to draw in new participants who could become lifetime customers and also to increase the engagement of existing campers, golfers, cyclists and skiers.
Has that growth continued post COVID, or have the new users returned to their old hobbies? To explore this question, let’s look at three growth strategy examples for golf, cycling and skiing.
Golf Growth Strategy Example:
Offering New Formats that Appeal to Novices and More Casual Players
Golf is a growth strategy example that is continuing to grow participation post the COVID outdoor boom.
To set the stage, between 2003 and 2018, golf lost 6.8 million players and had over 1,200 course closures. And, from 2018 to 2019, outdoor golf players were flat, starting at 24.2 million at year-end 2018 and ending at 24.3 million in 2019.
However, the picture changed in 2020, when outdoor, on-course golf players picked up to 24.8 million, then to 25.2 million in 2021 and up again to 25.6 million in 2022 (see chart below). In total, this is an increase of 1.4 million players from 2018 to 2022.
2023 looks to be on track for further increases, gauging by the rounds of golf played. Through August, golf is up 4.1% year-to-date in number of rounds of golf played, and 75% of months have shown increases vs. the prior year, compared with just 33% of the months showing increases in 2022, 58% in 2021 and 83% in 2020.
Golf is benefiting from a major repositioning from being mainly an expensive, time-consuming and high-skill outdoor, on-course sport to an indoors sport that is accessible to new participants and those with less time to invest. TheGrint found that the average cost for a round of golf is $48.
“Topgolf has positively influenced their interest in playing traditional golf.”
That doesn’t mean Topgolf is a bargain, as the hourly rate at Topgolf ranges between $30 to $75 per hour, depending on the location, time of day and day of the week.
In fact, the number of indoor golfers, a category that was growing prior to COVID, passed the number of outdoors in 2022. Specifically in 2022, there were 27.9 million indoor golfers and 25.6 million outdoor golfers. Indoor golfers have grown nearly five million from 2018 to 2022. While most golfers play both indoors and outdoors, the total number of golfers increased 7.6 million from 33.5 million in 2018 to 41.1 million at year end 2022.
As we wrote about in a previous sports growth strategy example, Callaway invested in Topgolf to participate in this growth. And, in 2022, Topgolf at $1.5 billion was nearly 40% of Callaway’s total revenue, with continued growth expected.
Puttshack is a new concept hoping to benefit from current golfing trends. With 13 locations worldwide, and another 13 opening soon, the brand states:
“We’ve rewritten the rules of mini golf – pairing modern tech with crazy courses and cool vibes with game faces for one hell of a good time.”
The picture looks bright for golf to continue attracting novice players and continuing growth—golf’s popularity wasn’t driven solely by consumers’ desires to get outdoors during COVID. Consumers welcome innovations that offer both indoor and outdoor choices and fundamentally alter the game experience for the needs of less committed players.
Cycling Growth Strategy Example:
E-Bikes Bring More Access
During the pandemic, outdoor bicycles were in very short supply, and it seemed like nearly everybody dusted off his or her bicycle and went for a spin.
Out on the beach bike path in South Bay Los Angeles, my bicycling partner and I saw many more bicyclists in 2020 and 2021 than in previous years. We started riding earlier in the morning to avoid the increased bicycle traffic and the challenge of navigating inexperienced riders.
While bicycling participation was going up for years, it took a big leap in 2020. Nationally in 2022, there were 43.55 million outdoor cyclists, which was a slight increase from 2021, but down from 2020’s over 44 million outdoor cyclists (on a road/paved surface). In 2020, the number of outdoor cyclists on a road/paved surface grew at least 2 million from 2019.
Meanwhile, the total number of bicyclists in the US rose from 48.9 million in 2019 to 52.7 million in 2020, an increase of nearly 3 million. Then in 2021, total bicyclists fell to 51.4 million. This means total bicyclists are up around 2.5 million since 2019.
Why is outdoor bicycling a growth strategy example? There are at least four reasons that come to mind.
For one, bicycling is a highly-accessible outdoor activity. While it takes some effort to learn how to ride a bicycle, some 94% of Americans have mastered this skill. And, for those who can’t or don’t prefer outdoor bicycling, there are stationary bicycles galore.
After learning to bike, the activity provides fun and exercise for those who prefer shorter, cruising and chatting bike rides with less exertion, all the way up to hard core cyclists. So, a second reason is that it’s easy to adjust the level of difficulty of the bicycle ride.
A third reason is that bicycling is also fairly affordable. While bicycle prices have risen, the costs are still relatively less than golf or skiing. The average cost of a bicycle in the US was $308 in 2022, and prices are continued to expect to rise to $361 in 2027. While there are some maintenance costs, typically there is no cost for a bike ride at a local park or the beach bike path that we use in Los Angeles. For instance, getting a bicycle tire repaired will cost between $15 to $150. Since I ride approximately 30 weeks per year, this would mean my average cost per ride (using these costs) is around $15 per ride if I bought a new $308 bike (for the year) and I got the most expensive repairs. Since I ride an older bike and only need to replace my tires once, my costs are around $2.50 per ride.
E-bikes have been growing in popularity and they allow bicyclists to enjoy the activity and cover terrain that could otherwise be difficult. They sold over 500,000 units in 2021, and were outselling traditional bicycles 2:1. It’s possible to try an e-bike in large cities from companies like Lime. E-bikes, however, have higher average prices than road bikes, at an average of $2,000-$3,000.
Bicycling events and organized rides can add interest to the activity and contribute to the growth strategy example.
“Cycling events play an important role in raising awareness regarding cycling and ultimately supporting efforts to encourage a shift toward bicycle use.”
Events have been important to my engagement with cycling. When I was younger, my friends and I would do three to four weekend bicycle tours in Vermont and New Hampshire per year. After moving to the Midwest, I enjoyed participating in The Apple Cider Century, the North Shore Century, the Amishland & Lakes ride and Chicago’s Bike the Drive.
My weekend workouts were motivated recently by an upcoming event. My daughter and I completed the 100 mile in one day Apple Cider Century bike ride in Three Oaks, Michigan. We heard from others at the last SAG stop that there were approximately 330 in the 100-mile category (that stopped at the SAG), meaning that around 10% of the approximately 3500 riders completed 100 miles. Looking at the SAG stop participation, it’s clear that most of the riders focus on the shorter 25-mile or 50-mile options.
Another big driver of involvement for me was a local club that met my needs. Belonging to the Evanston Bike Club was a wonderful experience, with choices for every rider, including casual (10-12 mph), moderate (13-15 mph), fast (15-17 mph), fast plus (17-19 mph), very fast (19-21 and 22+mph).
Strong, steady growth in bicycling is expected to continue. Unlike golf, with the Topgolf brand driving category adoption, the drivers for bicycling growth are less organized.
Skiing Growth Strategy Example:
Is it Sustainable?
Ski visits show uneven growth, from 59 million in 2018/19, to 59 million in 2019/20, dropping to 51 million in 2020/21, then rebounding to 61 million in 2021/22 and 65 million in 2022/23. It’s too early to say for 2023/24. Ski visits are skier days, not the same as the number of skiers.
The National Ski Areas Association estimated 11.6 million active skiers and snowboarders in 2022/23, up from 10.5 million in 2020/21, up from 9.2 million in 2019/20, and 10.3 million in 2018/19 and 9.1 million in 2017/2018.
Over the years, the numbers have bounced around in the nine to 10 million range, and 2022/23 is the first time they’ve exceeded 11 million. There have also been large dips in the past, so that a 9 million year may be on the horizon for 2023/24.
There are likely several reasons behind the recent growth in skiing. Like other outdoor sports, skiing may have benefitted from a COVID boost (after it initially suffered).
Record snow in 2022 in several regions led to a longer ski season. This drove the 2022/2023 numbers higher, and that growth may not be sustainable if there is less snow.
Another reason for growth is that snowboarding offers an alternative to skiing, so that in a given group of family or friends, some can choose to snowboard while others ski. Or, they can go back and forth. Snowboarding was first popularized in the 1980s.
However, there are several headwinds that act against skiing’s growth (in addition to the amount of snow).
An important factor holding skiing back from growing is cost. One estimate pegs the least expensive approach would be a lift ticket at $75 per day, ski rentals at $40 per day and bringing a cooler with your food to eat, e.g., $60 day. That’s $175/day for one person on the low end. For a couple or a family of four, these prices are doubled or quadrupled.
Another factor that acts as a drag on skiing growth is altitude sickness, which impacts some 25 to 40% of the population. Since my partner is prone to altitude sickness, we need to consider carefully if a ski vacation makes sense, and we sometimes skip the trip if the altitude looks too high.
Taken together, while I personally like skiing, I am not persuaded that skiing as a growth strategy example has as much supporting it as golf and cycling do.
For other growth strategy examples in outdoor brands and activities, visit the growth strategy resources page or check out articles on brand positioning, customer segmentation and performance brand positioning. Or join us at an upcoming office hours.