Swimming with the tide?

Given the participation rates of swimming in the UK, it is no surprise that our vast talent pool accomplishes such achievements. Research undertaken by SPORTS MARKETING SURVEYS INC. investigating participation levels of sports in the UK placed swimming as undoubtedly the most popular participation sport with around 21% of 16- 64 year olds in the UK taking part.

“SPORTS MARKETING SURVEYS INC. calculated that around 11,700,000 adults swam for leisure purposes (at least once) in 2012, while 1,750,000 swam for fitness or as part of a competition”

Swimming has consistently been a key contributor of medals to Great Britain’s medal tally at the Summer Olympic Games. In Athens in 2004, the GB Swim team won two bronze medals. Four years later in Beijing, the swim team won 13% of team GB’s total medals, including British starlet Rebecca Adlington’s two gold medals in the 400m and 800m freestyle events. And most recently during London 2012, the team acquired three more coveted medals.

SPORTS MARKETING SURVEYS INC. calculated that around 11,700,000 adults swam for leisure purposes (at least once) in 2012, while 1,750,000 swam for fitness or as part of a competition. To put this into perspective, cycling, a very current and fashionable sport, was the second most popular with 9,622,000 adults cycling in 2012, ahead of third placed running and fourth placed football, thus cementing swimming’s significance to the nation, and its health.

It is clear that the UK public swim to remain active, and not necessarily because they have a deep passion for the sport, as just under a quarter of swimmers follow swimming live on TV, and fewer than 1 in 10 are involved with swimming as an organiser. Relatedly the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA), England’s national governing body for swimming, boasts just under 1,200 English clubs with around 180,000 affiliated members -a fraction of all those participating.

Not only is swimming the most participated sport in the UK, it is also fairly ‘gender equal’. Of the top seven most popular participation sports in the UK, it is the only one which has a higher female to male participation ratio (58% vs. 42%), with 26.4% of UK females actively swimming. This is in contrast to cycling which is somewhat male dominated (62% of cyclists are male to 38% female). Similarly to swimming, running and tennis are two sports that can boast exceptional gender equality in their respective participants, with perfect parity.

Although swimming does not necessitate owning much equipment or clothing- each participant does need to own appropriate apparel! Swimming retailers and brands can be buoyed by the fact that the sport has significant penetration, and of those partaking around half do so at least once a week. This is a large market opportunity with new or replacement clothing- 47%, of active participants replaced their swimsuit in the last six months, and 43% purchased new goggles.

Although multi-sport giants Nike and adidas are the brands that most participants are aware of, the British-based Speedo – with a grand heritage within the swimming industry – is the most widely used and preferred brand amongst UK swimmers with 62% preferring to use any Speedo equipment whether that be hat, goggles, swimsuit or wetsuit. Adidas is the second most favoured with 25%, ahead of third placed Nike, and fourth placed Zoggs. More specifically, a considerable 53% prefer Speedo swimsuits, 35% more than its nearest competitor in this category.

Swimmers chose their swimming essentials largely due to its comfort, fit and feel (61%). This is particularly true when purchasing a swimsuit (56%), where the second greatest motivator is value for money (42%).

Speedo UK marketing manager, Sally Polak said: “As the market leader In the UK, Speedo has invested much time and energy into product technology over the years and with more than 80 years of expertise under our belt we never stop pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.

“We are passionate about making swimming both effective and fun for all ages and levels of ability; swimming is one of the few sports that can be enjoyed by the whole family together but more importantly it is an essential life skill and a truly great way to keep fit?”

SPORTS MARKETING SURVEYS INC. also investigated point of purchase for the various pieces of swimming equipment and clothing. Due to the demographics profile of swimming participants and the low level of club membership compared to a number of other sports, it is no surprise that the club shop is not a popular avenue to purchase any swimming supplies. The multiple sports store proved to be the most prevalent, particularly pertaining to the purchasing of swimsuits: 37% of participants last bought their costume from a multiple.