Winter sports

Change is in the Air: The shifting world of winter sports

Cassie Green is the editor of Awards & Engraving Magazine. She can be reached at or by phone at 720-566-7278.

When you think of winter sports, which ones come to mind? Perhaps it’s the obvious hockey, snowboarding, or skiing. Maybe it’s even the typical wrestling and basketball, which many school teams participate in during the colder months. But for those in the warmer parts of the country, winter sports extend beyond the ice and snow. Anything from golf to soccer is fair game in mild-weather locations.

Not only are there a growing amount of sports played in the winter months, but there are more and more leagues popping up, ready for a season of competition. And with the rise of individual participation sports such as golf and the growing popularity of year-round club teams, the winter sports climate is changing. Between school teams and clubs and associations, the winter sports market is teeming with potential. The question is, are you ready for change?

A New Roster

Let’s start with a basic outline of which sports fall under the winter classification. Sports such as hockey and snowboarding will always be a staple to the season—that goes without saying. But the big change in this aspect is that, anymore, many sports are played year-round, which means there are more teams participating in different sports in the colder months.

According to Cathy Garcia, Marco Awards Group, ice hockey is among the most popular sports in the winter months. “It must be noted that ice hockey is no longer a regional sport,” she points out. “Ice hockey spans the USA coast to coast and north to south. The growth of ice hockey has been affected because of the national presence of the NHL.” To that list of traditional winter sports, she adds wrestling, basketball, and ice skating.

But that’s not all. With the emergence of sports specialization and club leagues, winter sports become even more broadly defined. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), many youth participants are starting to focus on one, maybe two sports, but will play them all year long. The association notes that with the growing popularity of club and travel leagues, kids are encouraged to focus on one sport, but play it year-round.

Garcia agrees with this point. “Usually the definition of a club team is the higher skill level players, no matter what sport, who play most often, usually year-round,” she elaborates. She does point out, however, that school-tied teams generally adhere to the “normal” sports seasons, winter being December through March.

What does this mean for the awards retailer? There are more teams, and more specific sports, that can be sold to, with athletes participating in hockey, basketball, golf, and even bowling.

Award Transformation

Perhaps an even bigger change to the winter sports awards market is to the style and type of award products these teams are purchasing. Between shifting opinions on participation awards and the items that teams need that go beyond the traditional awards product, a transformation can be felt on the substrate side.

To some degree, buying habits do vary by purchaser. Mark Avenson, R.S. Owens, states that school teams tend to purchase the plastic and resin awards, but that breaks out into even smaller segments based on level. “College level has a larger budget and is more concerned with quality,” he states. Further, this can also differ when it comes to club teams. “Club teams and larger college sports want to award achievements with metal that will last not only in their show cases, but for the individual players as well,” he adds.

Like college athletics, club teams tend to purchase the higher end awards. Garcia attributes this to the dues that many club leagues require, which can be quite high. On top of that, clubs are in tournaments year-round, which means they are constantly in need of tournament trophies.

Another factor affecting the winter sports purchasing tendencies is which sport is looking for awards. “Ice hockey may (go for) bigger, more expensive awards as the budget is bigger,” Garcia states. “The expectation is because the cost of the sport is high that the award is a more expensive award.”

Garcia is quick to add that club sports generally don’t go for participation awards. In addition to tournament trophies, club teams often purchase MVP and place awards (think first, second, and third place). Participation trophies do still have a place with certain winter sports such as basketball and a few other school-tied sports, she finishes.

When it comes to cooler weather activities, the SFIA did find one interesting statistic in its 2017 Sports, Fitness, and Leisure Activities Topline Participation Report (which presents a detailed look at the participation growth trends for 120 different sports and activities): winter sports saw an increase in spending.

Score a Sale

With so many teams, players, leagues, and other factors influencing the winter sports season, it might be intimidating to sell to this specific market. On the flip side, it also provides huge profit potential to awards retailers willing to do the work.

According to Brenna Walsh, JDS Industries Inc., retailers should offer a diverse selection of products to match the variety of customers. “Provide a variety of options such as trophies, medals, and team gear,” she advises. Offering different options increases the chance of having something for every customer.

Avenson breaks that point down into a few specifics. “Try to judge your client’s budget for the type of product (they want),” he says. For example, if your client needs to spend a smaller dollar amount, match them with a plastic award versus a higher priced metal product. Just don’t forget that there are times where the upsell works. “You can possibly upsell for the large school tournament display trophy,” he says of those teams that generally purchase lower price items.

And don’t forget the add-ons. “Product such as slides, socks, shirts, bags and arm sleeves are a great way to increase sales and to show team pride with customized team gear,” notes Walsh. These kinds of add-on items allow awards retailers to sell to more than just the players—now they’re selling to parents, friends, coaches, and other students that want to show their team pride.

Once you’ve employed the right marketing tactics, it’s time to go out there and sell to those winter sports customers. “It’s not just about give me what you made for me last year,” Garcia finishes. Even the customers are looking for a change.