The European market for athletic footwear and apparel is being hit harder by current economic challenges than its US counterpart, according to new figures released yesterday (18 December), with the downturn most noticeable in products intended for casual use.

In the European Big Five market - UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain - during the quarter to September 2008, value sales fell 8% in apparel and 5% in footwear, reports market research company The NPD Group Inc.

Downturns were softer in the US where athletic footwear was down only 1.5%, and the active apparel market posted a modest 0.7% gain for the three months ending in September.

While the European market was down overall, there were bright spots, NPD said, including a rise in sales of apparel and footwear intended for sport use.

For footwear bought mostly for sport use, the European market scored a 5% increase in units for the quarter compared to a year ago. In apparel, for tops intended for sport use, unit sales were up a robust 12%.

However, sales of casual athletic footwear were down 7% for the quarter, while casual sport style tops saw unit sales drop 10%.

"Businessmen will not give up their Sunday jogging when the going gets tough," said NPD sport industry expert Renaud Vaschalde.

"If you look at sales related to sport use, the dynamic of consumption is still there, at least in units."

Looking ahead to the last quarter of 2008, Vaschalde believes the Big 5 European sport footwear market will end the year 2008 down around 5% in value and sport apparel will be down around 8%.

In the US, though, downward trends have been much softer, with athletic footwear down just 1.5% and the active apparel market seeing a modest 0.7% gain for the three months ending in September.

Other US bright spots include solid gains in sales of athletic footwear to men and active apparel to women.

NPD calculates that sales of men's athletic footwear for casual use were up 8.1% in the three-month period, accompanied by a 10% climb in average sale price (from $42.32 up to $46.56).

Sports athletic footwear sales to men rose 7.2%, driven by an 8.5% increase in average sale price (from $44.75 to $48.57). All other age and gender groups were down over the same period.

Active apparel sales posted a slight gain as sales to men were down 4.6% while sales to women were up 2.0%.