Starting a Sports or Recreation Business

If you love sports and want to start a business, why not combine the two?

Back away from the couch. Turn off the TV. Put down that bag of chips. Millions of Americans hear that message daily, and millions heed the call: They exercise. According to SGMA International's 2002 edition of Sports Participation in America, the annual bible published by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, 86.1 million Americans are frequent sports participants-and 83.6 million occasionally participate in the fitness game.

That's a lot of potential customers-if you own a sports and recreation business, that is. Depending on your area of interest, the possibilities are endless. For instance, if you're an exercise-inclined entrepreneur who dreams of the day you can run your own business, then why not aim for the runners of America? There are 30 million of them nationwide, according to the Textbook of Running Medicine. Or dive into the swimming market: 93.6 million of us are regulars at the beach or pool, according to the SGMA.

American Sports Data tracks 103 sports and recreational activities, so there isn't much shortage of what shape your dream business could take. But first you have to back away from the couch. Turn off the TV. And put away those chips.

What's Out There
Intimidated because you think the big corporations like Nike have already conquered the sports and recreation world? Don't be. There are more than enough opportunities out there. So much so that even Nike would probably encourage sports- and recreation-minded entrepreneurs to "Just do it." You're only limited by your imagination, so arm yourself with some statistics, and we'll try to help you brainstorm.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 participated in at least one human-powered activity in 2001, which was a modest increase of 3.6 percent. Human-powered activities? That would include pastimes like kayaking, canoeing and backpacking, which were all part of that 3.6 percent. And so you could start a business that's involved with manufacturing or selling kayaking equipment, paddles or backpacks-and, hey, if backpacks interest you, you could offer a product line that appeals to everybody from the rugged mountaineer to a 12-year-old who has too many textbooks for his two arms.


Find Your Niche
If you're still hurting for sports and recreation ideas, here are some ideas to consider:

  • Publish a local sports or recreation magazine.
  • Start a graphics design company that specializes in sports.
  • Find a baseball or football stadium and open a business where the people are.
  • Focus on the relaxing part of recreation, as not all recreation is active-like sunbathing.
  • Tap into your medical background, if you have one, and start a business that handles sports-related injuries.
  • Find an underserved but beloved sport or recreation with an unfulfilled need, and you probably have the makings of a successful business.

Echoing our thinking is Mark Beal, one of several partners at New York City-based Alan Taylor Communications, the country's leading sports marketing and public relations company. "Sports is not the three or four major leagues," says Beal. "It's the amateur level, the professional level, the grassroots level. There is a lot of opportunity out there, and if you have blinders on, and you just think of professional baseball, basketball and football, you're missing a lot of opportunities, many of them in your own backyard."

So start looking in your backyard, and start thinking. For instance, across the United States, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a nonprofit organization that funds and promotes the idea of turning abandoned railroads into bicycle paths. By the end of 2004, it's estimated they'll have 15,000 miles of bicycle paths across the country-stretches of paved trail that stretch for miles.

Yeah, so? Well, if one of these rail trails is near where you live or where you'd like to live, you could rent bicycles to these people. Or if you just like bicyclists but don't want to rent cycles or repair them, you could feed the cycling crowd, with a chain of snack shacks offering everything from power energy drinks to ice cream sodas. (Families ride on these trails, too, you know.) Or think of the nearby skateboarding parks that might offer an entrepreneur some business opportunities-selling skateboards, repairing them, selling bandages, you name it. These are all ideas worth thinking about, but: "You have to be in love with the market you serve," says Ray Pelletier, a motivational coach in Miami Lakes, Florida, who specializes in motivating coaches and players on the university circuit-which, hey, is another area of sports, or another type of career, that you could be thinking about.

"Sports is really branching out into a lot of different areas," notes Beal. "You see it with extreme sports, and a lot of adventure racing and endurance sports. If you think back to the 1970s, you always had your mainstream sports, and those are still very strong-tennis, football and basketball, for instance. But there are newer things that have sprouted up, and they're not going away."

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the November 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Starting a Sports or Recreation Business.

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