2018 Golf Consumer Franchise: Finding Support at 20M Players
The golf consumer franchise scorecard results for 2018 are encouraging, if not positive. For the 4th consecutive year we saw marginal decline in the number of golfers playing 1+ rounds in the past 12 months (Calendar Year (CY) ’18 in the survey fielded Q1 ’19). While not exactly the picture of health, it’s better than the ’10-’15 period where we were shedding 1M+ golfers per year net. What we don’t know definitively is whether this is due to our player development programs working to increase the “top of the funnel” or whether we’ve simply shed all the “fringe golfers” who tried the sport, were up for playing a round a year but hadn’t really caught the bug or found it that interesting. Given that we haven’t seen any quantifiable, scalable success out of any of the industry-sanctioned programs I’d have to put my money on the latter of the two hypotheses but chalk that up to analyst pure speculation.
The ’18 consumer survey done in conjunction with our partners at the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) does tell us some interesting things about the size, shape and trends of the golf consumer franchise. Following the new nomenclature I outlined in the April Outside the Ropes (Players, Golfers, Participants), our ’18 count and commentary only covers the Players segment (not practicers, simulator golf or golfertainment (TopGolf & clones) exclusives). Pellucid’s figures and analysis are also a “latent demand-free zone”; we’ll leave all the “hope and change” metrics to our friends at the NGF and associated industry echo chambers. For the universe of 1+ rounds in the past year (7+ age constrained) our tale of the tape covers the following metrics:
- Golfers and Participation Rate – Golfers fractionally down (1%), slowing the 5-year Compound Annual Change Rate (CACR) to roughly -2%
- Demographic shifts – We saw losses in the Mid-Career (35-54) and Early Career (18-34) lifestages offset by a slight gain in the Seniors (65+) lifestage. The much-watched Millennial cohort (proxied as 18-34 based on the fixed survey age ranges) declined by 2% which outpaced the fractional total golfers loss rate so a continued cause for concern (after they get tired of TopGolf they’ll try the sport of golf, right?). The good news is that the gain in Seniors brings higher frequency so, in the short-term, we’ll trade Millennials for Seniors but that will come back to haunt those of us still in the industry in 5-7 years if the pattern continues
- Involvement Level of Golfers – For the third consecutive year, we saw erosion in the Committed golfer group (40+ rds/yr, likely trading down to Involved frequency vs. leaving the game) offset by an increase in Singles. This is a case where the rounds math works against us. We don’t know if the increase in Singles is new golfers or existing golfers downshifting from Casuals (2-9 rds/yr). The consumer survey-based frequency remained steady so that’s encouraging
- 2020 projections for the golfer base size – The softening in the rate of golfer decline adjusts our 2020 projection upward slightly changing our projection that, on current trend, we’ll be sub-20M players in 2020 unless virtual golf and the various latent demand theories produce some significant number of new real feet across real grass (new target/tagline for the failed 20/20 initiative, “Fight to keep the golfer base above 20M by 2020!”)
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