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SGMA Survey Bigger - Paintball Smaller
by Bill Mills - July 2007

Since the late 1990s, many in the paintball industry have looked to research performed by the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association – ASTM International - as a barometer of how the market is growing – or contracting. Each summer SGMA International publishes a series of in-depth reports that are widely respected in sports manufacturing and marketing circles as a prime source of information about sports participation and marketing in the US.

Each year's reports feature the results and analysis of a major survey covering US Sports activities the previous year. The 2007 reports, contain data about 2006 participation, 2005 participation and insight into trends compared to previous surveys. The 2007 survey however is so different in both form and scope that some comparisons will be not be realistic as the resulting numbers are so far different – expectedly better representing the US population.

Previous year surveys used forms sent through the mail and used data collected from about 15,000 respondents. Sorted by age, gender, income, race, region and other factors, these responses were used to project an estimate of the national population's sports participation levels.

In 2007 the survey went digital and got much larger. Between January and February of 2007 a total of 60,169 online interviews were performed using a sampling of respondents taken out of a list of more than a million people selected to represent the US population.

In the months since the initial survey, the data was analyzed and projections were made to estimate the activities of the 270 million people aged six and above, populating the US in 2006.

For the paintball industry, the changes to the survey size and format mean good news and bad news. The bad news is that the total number of paintball players in 2006 appears to be about half of that estimated by the smaller survey taken in 2006 – something that will be a hard shock to companies that made buy-outs and investments over the last year.

The good news is that the decline is likely not as great as it seems. With the number of people surveyed increasing four-fold, and more in-depth questions about how and when people participated in sports (the new survey asked about both 2005 and 2006 participation, so that people would not be tempted to count something they did 13 months ago as within the last year) the new estimates are better able to reflect the true national paintball participation levels. In short, much of the decrease appears to not be a real decline, but rather a better view of the paintball market. Additionally, with questions spanning two years, the survey offered a much better look at changes from 2005 to 2006.

So, what do the numbers say? The new survey data shows a total of 5 million paintball players in the US (4.960 million to be more specific.) Of those players, 2.5 million people were considered the core of the paintball community, hitting the field 8 or more times per year. By percentage, this group grew from 2005 to 2006. In perspective, this means that more than half of the paintball community is made up of people playing more than once every other month, good news for the paintball industry, as the more frequent players are the ones more likely to invest in higher end equipment.


paintball participation frequency

The new survey format included two years of participation information as well as additional questions about how and where people played. It also asked about the first time they played. Because of this SGMA International was able to estimate that in 2006, 17.7% of the people who played paintball did so for the first time, and 133,000 players who didn't participate in 2005 came back to the sport in 2006. Also significant was that 2.4 million players who took part in 2005 left the sport in 2006.

According to the 2007 survey, the larger number of players leaving made for a 14% drop in total paintball participants - a bitter pill for the industry to swallow if it is the beginning of a trend.

Data from the survey included other demographic criteria such as age, sex, household income and geography. Twenty-one percent of the 2006 paintball participants were female. Women and girls made up a whopping 38% of the year's first time players, but only about 30% of those who left the sport, indicating a move toward increasing female participation.

Players under the age of 18 made up 48% of the 2006 paintball population, and paintball activity is well spread throughout the country, with the highest participation levels in the North East Central region, and the lowest in the Mountain region.

For those concerned with the safety and future of the sport, the venue where the game is played is all important – a supervised well run field or “renegade” games on private land in which key safety elements such as chronographs are often lacking. A new question addressed this in the survey, and participants indicated that 56% of their games were on private property, while 37% were at commercial fields.


The USA Sports & Fitness Participation Report is not limited to paintball, it covers 114 sports. As it has in the past, paintball ranked high among “extreme” sports, and even showed itself as popular compared to some more traditional sports. Also of note, while SGMA International originally classified paintball as a shooting sport, it was reclassified as an Extreme Sport in the late 1990s. Perhaps a sign of its mainstream acceptance, the 2007 Sports & Fitness Participation Report top-line summary listed paintball as a Team Sport.

Single sport reports from the 2007 Sports & Fitness Participation Report are available in electronic form, while printed volumes contain the full report. Both may be purchased through SGMA International's web site. Additional reports focus on a range of topics including impact of race on sports participation and interest, as well as sporting goods annual sales estimates broken down by similar demographics to participation.

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