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SGMA Survey Shows Paintball Growth
by Bill Mills - August 2008

When it comes to determining just how many people play paintball – or other sports each year, the paintball industry generally turns to the SGMA. For the past several years, the Sporting Goods Manufacturer's Association of America has sponsored or produced studies of sports participation in the United States, using surveys and mathematical extrapolations to estimate national sports participation levels.

Each year, the SGMA publishes reports based on surveys covering the previous year's participation. Up through 2006, the SGMA used data obtained through mail-in surveys produced by American Sports Data, but for their 2007 report they began doing their own surveys, using Internet based data collection, and what they believe to be a sampling method that provides a more accurate picture of national sports activity.

With a change in survey methodology, SGMA's 2007 reports presented annual participation projections for paintball at about half of those from the previous year. Much of that difference could be attributed to the change in research methodology, a change that the SGMA believes delivers a more accurate view. Because the 2007 report included questions about participation over two years, it was also able to show changes in participation from 2005 to 2006, and in this regard it showed a 14% drop in the total number of Americans who played paintball at least once during the year.

Not surprisingly, the 2007 study drew a mixed reaction. Some in the paintball industry said the drop it showed in participation mirrored their impression of the paintball market. Paintball players in Internet forums argued that they saw more players at their local field, so the sport must be growing, while Harvey Lauer of American Sports Data called the survey format itself into question.

In a letter to, Lauer pointed out that SGMA's promotion of the 2007 study did not mention a change in research providers and that the sample size of 60,169 people represents the number of people invited to participate in the survey, rather than the number of respondents who participated.

Lauer stated that, “given industry norms, 20,000 is a pretty good estimate of how many respondents chose to participate in the survey (the real sample). This would result in approximately 350 to 400 actual respondents who represent 5 million projected paintball players.

“By contrast,” Lauer went on to say, “the continuing authentic American Sports Data, Inc. study for 2006 contains 629 Paintball players, gleaned from a real sample of 16,148.”

The SGMA's US Sports Participation Study, 2008 Edition is out, and not only does the SGMA now clarify their respondent levels in their Topline Report (a summary of participation levels by sport,) but they also show an increase in paintball participation.

The 2008 reports began with a survey in late January and early February of 2008 in which a total of 40,794 online interviews were performed. The sample of individuals and households was selected from the US Online Panel of over one million potential respondants maintained by Synovate, a market research company. The selection process included an oversampling of ethnic groups which commonly underr-respond to surveys in order accurately represent their participation levels. According to the SGMA, a total of 15,013 individuals and 25,781 household surveys were completed, and the information from those surveys was weighted to match US demographics of gender, age, income, household size, religion and population density, then extrapolated to project the participation levels amongst the 276,796,000 people in the US aged 6 and above.

The new reports estimate a total of 5,476,000 people played paintball in 2007, this was up from 4,547,000 projected for 2006, an increase of 929,000 players or twenty percent.

It is interesting to note that the SGMA's 2007 Sports & Fitness Participation Report projected 4,960,000 total participants in 2006, a difference of nearly half a million players between the two surveys asking about the same year.

The 2008 US Sports Participation Study goes into far more detail than merely total participation numbers. It additionally breaks down sports participation by region of the country, age, race and other factors, as well as looking at frequency of participation.


According to the 2008 report, of the 5,476 people who played paintball in 2007, 58 percent were casual players who took to the field anywhere from one to seven times during the year. Thirteen percent played between 8 and 14 days, while 28 percent played paintball fifteen or more times during the year. The total core participants – those who played at least 8 days out of the year increased by 2.3 percent from 2006 to 2007, for a total of 2,281,000 serious paintballers.


The 2008 data shows paintball to have held its ground as a widely played sport, rather than a fringe activity, as its 5.5 million total participants stack up well against traditional scholastic sports activities such as baseball's 16 million, cheerleading's 3.3 million, tackle football's 7.9 million, ice hockey's 1.8 million, and wrestling's 3.3 million.

Data from the 2008 US Sports Participation Study is available in a variety of reports, ranging from overall sports coverage to specific detailed analyses of individual sports or categories.

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