Page last updated at 23:14 GMT, Tuesday, 2 September 2008 00:14 UK

Olympic success sparks sports sales

By Kevin Peachey
Consumer affairs reporter, BBC News

Christine Ohuruogu
The success of the GB team has sparked interest in participation

When injury meant Chinese hurdling hero Liu Xiang failed to make it out of the blocks in the Olympics, an entire nation was left stunned.

His image was so iconic across the world that one major sports store in the UK featured a giant display of a Chinese hurdler in its entrance.

But it seems that this was about all that failed to get off the ground for these sports retailers.

Despite the current squeeze on household finances, shoppers were busier than anticipated in August and exercising their wallet to buy sports and fitness equipment.

Now retailers are waiting to see if the interest will wane.

Sporting spend

The success of the British Olympic team helped boost activity in the shops reversing three consecutive months of falling shopper numbers, according to Experian's national retail footfall index.

It is likely that shopping visits to out-of-town locations were helped by the resurgent interest in sports and fitness products
Robin Goad, Hitwise

The footfall index registered a 3.9% rise in August compared with July, which also pushed the year-on-year trend up slightly. The change was 0.4% from August 2007 to August 2008.

Online retail activity, judged by Experian's Hitwise company, was up by 3.5% year-on-year.

It was here that the Olympics effect was most marked.

Internet traffic to sports and fitness retailers peaked during the opening weekend of competition and was still up 36% year-on-year by the end of the event.

"It is likely that shopping visits to out-of-town locations were helped by the resurgent interest in sports and fitness products and services since many sports retailers are located in out-of-town destinations," says Robin Goad, director of research at Hitwise.

Two wheels good

The Hitwise data suggested that bicycle retailers received a boost in particular, after the success of the British cycling team.

Olympic cyclists
The GB team had huge success on the track at the Olympics

Phil Beer, manager at Tibbs Cycle Store in Canterbury, says that the heroics of athletes such as Chris Hoy has sparked more interest.

"We have certainly had more people talking about cycling, but how long that continues we will wait to see," he says.

There has also been striking interest from dads keen to get back into BMX cycling after watching the, ultimately unsuccessful, exploits of Shanaze Reade, he says.

Fathers are buying their children a BMX and then deciding to return to racing themselves.

Pay to play

The Nationwide Building Society suggested that consumer confidence held steady in August, but was propped up by lower oil prices and the Olympics.

"Lower petrol prices and more competitive new mortgage rates will be good news for the public. Team GB's Olympic performance in Beijing may even have helped lift the nation's spirits slightly," says Fionnuala Earley, Nationwide's chief economist.

But there are warnings that retail sales as a whole are likely to be hit as a result of the general economic climate over the next 12 months.

So anyone still enthusiastically following the Olympic spirit might be looking for the cheap options.

While that might rule out the modern pentathlon, a number of sports will be largely unaffected by the credit crunch.

An adult swim at a pool in Nottinghamshire, where double Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington lives and trains, costs less than 3.

For those inspired by the Paralympics, a indoor Boccia set from the governing body will cost about 140.

And for those with a eye on history, all you need is some friends and a bit of old rope to compete in a former Olympic sport - tug of war.

China lights the Paralympic torch
28 Aug 08 |  Paralympics
Re-vamp for Victorian velodrome
01 Sep 08 |  South West Wales
GB Olympic heroes welcomed home
25 Aug 08 |  Olympics

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