Here’s How Much Americans Spend on Sports

Enthusiasts cough up for sporting events, equipment and gym memberships

Cheesehead-donning fans of the Green Bay Packers. Cheesehead-donning fans of the Green Bay Packers.

America’s sports-industrial complex took in more than $100 billion last year, according to a survey released Monday by CreditCards.com.

Sports enthusiasts’ spending included $55.9 billion for sporting events, $33.4 billion for athletic equipment, $19.2 billion for gym memberships, $8 billion for sports-themed games, $4.8 billion for race entry fees and $2.3 billion for fantasy sports leagues.

Princeton Survey Research Associates International conducted telephone interviews in English and Spanish in mid-August with 1,003 adults living in the continental U.S.

Thirty-six percent of millennials polled said they had paid for a gym membership during the past year, twice as often as older respondents.

In addition, 43% of the 18-to-53 age cohort paid to attend a sporting event in the preceding 12 months, compared with only 21% of those 53 and older.

Here’s how Americans’ sports spending broke down over the past 12 months:

  • 34% on sporting events, including tickets, transportation, food and beverages
  • 29% on athletic equipment
  • 23% for gym memberships
  • 12% for sports-themed video games
  • 8% to participate in a 5K, fun run, bicycle race or similar event
  • 4% for fantasy sports leagues

Not Just the Game

For most sports fans, a season ticket or admission to one event — not cheap to begin with — is only the beginning of a day’s outlay to attend a game, what with parking, refreshments and souvenirs.

CreditCards.com, citing a Tableau Public report, noted that a family of four put out an average of $503 in 2016 to attend an NFL game, up 232% from $151 in 1991.

That covered two adult tickets, two children’s tickets, two small beers, four small soft drinks, four hot dogs, two programs, two adult-size ball caps and parking.

The same family spent $339 in 2016 to attend an NBA game, up 139% from $142 in 1991, and got off relatively cheap to watch a Major League Baseball game, spending $219.53, up 176% from $79.41 in 1991.

“Americans love sports, but it’s no secret that attending a professional sporting event is a costly endeavor, even from the upper deck,” CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz said in a statement.

“That doesn’t seem to be stopping people from spending a ton on athletics, though, proving that ‘if you build it, they will come.’”

Although people of all ages attend sporting events, two age groups in particular were likeliest to put out the money for tickets and other items, according to the poll results.

Forty-six percent of respondents 30 to 49 said they had spent money on sport events, as had 37% of 18- to 29-year-olds, who most often chose the cheap seats.

For all age groups, college graduates with income of at least $75,000 were much more likely to buy tickets to sporting events and pay for related expenses.

Tomorrow’s Sports Stars

According to the survey, 46% of respondents with children younger than 18 said they had spent money on athletic equipment over the past year, compared with 22% of those without children.

Outfitting children to participate in sports comes with a hefty price tag, according to CreditCards.com.

It is not surprising that this spending was highest among better-off, better-educated American parents. Forty-two percent of these spenders were 30 to 49 years old.

The report cited Robert Herbst, a Larchmont, New York-based personal trainer, coach and champion powerlifter, who estimated that he had spent $2,000 a year on hockey equipment for his son, starting at age 4, easing off as the boy stopped growing.

His son’s skates cost $950 or more, hockey gloves $500 each, helmet $300, pants close to $200 and the sticks, which are prone to breakage, $250 or more. 

Herbst, who also manages his community’s summer Little League program, told CreditCards.com that he had seen parents spend more on athletic equipment than most people spend on a family dinner at a pricey restaurant, for example, $179 on a 9-year-old Little Leaguer’s baseball bat.

Matt Gellene, an executive at Bank of America’s investment arm Merrill Edge, recommended that sports-related spending be done thoughtfully.

“There’s nothing wrong with investing in items like tickets to a football game, new sporting equipment for yourself or your children and unlimited gym memberships,” Gellene told CreditCards.com.

These expenditures should be budgeted for, Gellene said. “And don’t forget about saving for your long-term financial goals, such as buying a home or saving for retirement.”

He suggested setting up a savings strategy several months before buying tickets for a favorite team’s big game of the year, and using the same approach to buy the expensive bat for one’s 9-year-old.

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