I was asked the question this week, “what’s the fastest growing sport in America?” Good question, really. I have my beliefs in terms of what is gaining popularity and what might be struggling. But like any good researcher should ask, what’s the definition of sport we’re looking for? Team sports, individual sports, sports for fitness? I guess this could go a few different ways. Nonetheless, it got me thinking.
First, in case you’re wondering, I answered by saying “I’m not sure,” and then spouted off some theories, but not facts. Never be afraid to admit you simply don’t know the answer. Of course, these days that’s easier said than done. Everybody is an expert. Just go to Facebook; someone will tell you.
So, I did a little homework. I was surprised to find that football is growing in participation numbers. According to the Boston Globe, participation from 2014-2016 increased for youth football. One would think that concussion scares and physicality would have had a negative impact on the sport. That’s where the catch, however comes in; of its growth, 8.7 percent of those were participating in flag football, but tackle saw a small increase as well.
Football is probably the safest it's ever been, especially at the youth level. When it comes time for my child to choose to play, I’ll be all for it. His mother still might need some convincing. Baseball also saw a nice increase as well of over 3 percent, keeping our pastime’s future safe for now.
Lacrosse seems to be an up-and-coming addition to many sports offerings across America. Usually reserved for the upper class of the East Coast, lacrosse is pushing west. Even some nearby universities have added the sport. Don’t ask me to explain the rules, I just know the sticks look cool.
Research on growing sports is tough to decipher. Much of what is written is done from an advocacy standpoint, written by someone who has a vested interest in seeing certain sports gain traction. I even came across a few articles touting the growth of “pickleball.” It’s a hybrid between tennis, badminton and squash. Essentially, it’s like ping pong but on a court. If you’re either too old to move or just plain lazy, you can get a game in with minimal impact. Sign me up.
Pickleball might be growing around struggling tennis clubs and retirement communities, but I’m not thinking it’s going to tear up the television ratings anytime soon. I’ll file it under the “weekend warrior” category with golf, which unfortunately isn’t seeing much growth in the States and the number of rounds played is decreasing annually. However, “boutique” golf clubs like Top Golf franchises are taking off; go figure.
Locally, whether you participate or not you can’t argue the growth of cycling and mountain biking, the latter of which is seeing tremendous growth over the last few years. PhitAmerica.org had some interesting participation numbers and it seems like two wheels are the way to go.
This time the growth seems to be spurned by people wanting to be more active, not the Lance Armstrong effect from the Tour de France. With the cycling investments made locally with amenities like bike paths, mountain bike trails and the Gran Fondo, it’s safe to say that sport will thrive locally in the near future. There’s even a mountain bike team at Tehachapi High School.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include E-sports. That’s right, electronic-sports or gaming to you and me. It’s become a thing, it really has. Crowds are selling out arenas like Key Arena in Seattle and the Staples Center in Los Angeles to watch others play video games.
The industry was recently profiled by Sports Illustrated and it was estimated that 22 percent of millennial males watch Esports. Just go to YouTube. You’ll find hundreds of thousands of views for Esports videos. I haven’t watched one yet because I’m a married adult male with a child and I would rather swallow a Lego than spend time watching someone else play a game console. But, to each his own, right? I firmly believe in that principle, so I’ll reserve judgment.
So, do I have the answer about “the faster growing sports in the United States?” No, not really, but some have brighter futures than others. Can we at least work on the names, though? I mean, pickleball? Had they named it “Dragon-Ball” or “Cobra-Tennis” I would be first in line. Who hires these marketing people?
Corey Costelloe has covered the NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. A THS graduate, he now resides and works in Tehachapi. He can be reached at email@example.com. The opinions expressed are his own.