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Sports market declined for first time in 5 years, NPD says

The news from market research company NPD Group Inc. sure makes Under Armour’s latest earnings report look even better.

According to the Port Washington, N.Y.-based company, the worldwide sports market (apparel and equipment sales) declined 4 percent in the U.S. last year. In Japan, sales declined 5 percent.

Worldwide, the trend is showing a stronger demand for “sports use” products — footwear, equipment, etc. — than “sports style” products. And if you’re watching your spending, that makes sense — you don’t want to give up playing your sport, so replacing necessities like old shoes and equipment is a must. But you can live without the new pair of workout leggings this season.

Lastly, here’s the good news — demand is expected to go up in 2010, NPD says. The group is forecasting a sales increase of 1 percent worldwide.

“We have just ended the 2010 World Cup and we know that from past tournament years this is a key driver of sales in the football market and in turn that will help to push the overall sport market back into positive territory,” Renaud Vaschalde, NPD global sports industry analyst, said in a statement.

The World Cup is certainly a driver for apparel sales, as I wrote about in my retail story, “Soccer means business” in June. And let’s not forget the Winter Olympics held this year too. But what about 2011? With this slow and steady recovery, will 2011 — without a major, worldwide sporting event — look bad in comparison?

Thank goodness for the Summer Olympics in 2012, huh?