The way Americans have shopped for soccer balls and baseball mitts for decades is changing.
People are wearing sports and athletic apparel more than ever before, spurring record-breaking sales last year for athletic footwear and activewear.
But they're not buying them as much from the traditional sporting goods stores.
Instead, other retailers have stepped in to soak up the growth. Not only do apparel brands such as Nike and Under Armour now have their own stores, but consumers are turning to e-commerce giants such as Amazon.com, traditional retailers such as Walmart and small but popular niche athletic apparel brands such as Lululemon, Lolë and Athleta.
"They're squeezing out the middle," said Faith Hope Consolo, chairwoman of the Retail Group for Douglas Elliman Real Estate in New York City.
Meanwhile, there are fewer people actually playing sports, causing a dip in equipment sales that typically make up about half of the floor space in a traditional sporting goods retailer. The former sports gold mine, golf, is quickly shrinking in popularity, and kids are increasingly turning to video games while their parents fear concussions on real sports fields, said Matt Powell, sports industry analyst with the NPD Group in Maine.
"The consumer is admitting that while they're buying athletic wear, only a third said they're actually going to use them for athletic activities," he said.
Some sporting goods retailers were unable to keep up. The second-biggest company, Sports Authority, filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and has since shuttered all of its 450-plus stores, including 12 in Tampa Bay. Recently, the largest golf retailer in the world, Golfsmith International, also filed for bankruptcy.
Last year, Boston-based City Sports went out of business, citing an "extremely competitive market." It was followed by Sports Chalet, a 47-store chain based in California, which shut down earlier this year.
Each of the retailers that went out of business was deep in debt, which directly resulted in their downfall, Powell said, adding that he is not aware of any other major players remaining that are in that situation now.
Matt Carlson, president of the National Sporting Goods Association, said the thinning out of the "hyper-competitive" sporting goods industry is in part due to changes in the overall retail market.
"There's an oversupply of brick-and-mortar space for people to shop at in the U.S.," he said. "In many cases, those areas can't support these stores."
However, the remaining retailers appear to have found their places in the marketplace, experts say, and many of them are in growth mode.
The giant of the industry, Dick's Sporting Goods, has opened nearly 200 stores over the past five years, bringing the nationwide total to about 650. And the retailer continues to grow, with another location planned locally at Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg. Analysts said Dick's has been particularly effective in a mall environment, where a family can find fashionable yoga apparel, popular shoe brands, plus sports and hunting or fishing equipment in the same place.
The second-largest sporting goods retailer now is Academy Sports & Outdoors, known for its extensive, affordable line of name-brand equipment, clothing and shoes for competitive sports, fitness training and outdoor recreational activities such as camping, hunting and fishing. While not yet in Tampa Bay, Academy has a handful of locations in the Orlando area. It is aggressively expanding into the Florida market and could be here soon.
Representatives with Academy Sports & Outdoors did not respond to requests for comment.
Bass Pro Shops, which opened its first Tampa Bay area store in Brandon last year, will also open new stores in Gainesville and Sarasota. Bass Pro's 130,000-square-foot Outdoor World store, which has fishing ponds, taxidermy displays and a restaurant, is the kind of cult favorite lure that makes people drive there from hundreds of miles away and even book a hotel room.
While the industry shrinks and evolves, used and secondhand sporting equipment retailer Play It Again Sports is doing exceptionally well, said local franchise owner Sandy Fortin. He has struggled to keep his shelves stocked since Sports Authority shut down.
"We're reaping the benefits," he said.