Chapter 7: What People Buy: Entertainment, Recreation, and Hobbies

Chapter 7: What People Buy: Entertainment, Recreation, and Hobbies


Americans spend a prodigious amount of money on entertainment, recreation, and hobbies. In terms of the national economy, consumer spending on recreational and entertainment products and services in total was $633.9 billion in 2002, or 8.6 percent of the nation's $7.385 trillion consumer economy. That includes $35.3 billion spent on admissions to sports, movies, entertainment, and other amusements, as well as consumer product purchases, which are the focus of this book and include everything from books, magazines, and newspapers to sporting equipment, toys, video, audio, DVD hardware and software, and craft supplies among others.

Americans spend more on recreation and entertainment than clothing, accessories, and jewelry, which totaled $405.5 billion in 2002. And spending on recreation is 85 percent of what we spend on household operations, which amounted to $748.3 billion in 2002 and includes such essentials as furniture, furnishings, utilities, telephone, and services.

Americans spend about the same amount of money on entertainment and recreation as the entire GNP of Canada.

Placed into a global content, Americans spend about the same amount of money on entertainment and recreation as the entire GNP of Canada, Australia, or Spain. Further, our expenditures in this area are about half of the size of the GNP of the United Kingdom.


With expenditures on entertainment so vast, it is easy to see why futurist Graham T.T. Molitor believes that a new era of leisure is dawning when the leisure industry will become the largest provider of employment in the country and will account for the biggest share of gross domestic product. Trends in the culture today, notably shorter workweeks, more holidays, longer vacations, earlier retirement, longer life spans, faster transportation, smaller families, and more labor-saving devices, are converging that will allow people to spend as much as 50 percent of their lifetimes on entertainment, sports, travel, and other leisure activities.

Molitor, president of Public Policy Forecasting, Inc., vice president of the World Future Society, and editor of Encyclopedia of the Future, says our current economic era of knowledge and information is passing and that a new leisure time era will emerge shortly. "The current Information Age has relatively few remaining years of dominance—possibly as few as 20," predicts Molitor. He expects a leisure-time era to emerge by 2015 and dominate the world economy until 2100.

"Leisure-oriented businesses—everything from bars to video stores to opera houses—will account for 50 percent of the U.S. gross national product shortly after 2015." He predicts that entertainment conglomerates, such as Disney's ABC, will be in the forefront of this growing sector. The industries that will grow in the leisure era include hospitality, recreation, entertainment, travel and tourism, gambling, and all manner of diversionary experiences and pastimes.


Americans are confused about leisure time, what it is, how to use it, and whether they really deserve it. While Europeans without guilt enjoy their annual August vacation season when virtually everyone takes holiday, it is unthinkable that Americans could ever free themselves for such an extravagant month-long vacation. Perhaps owing to the founding fathers' "Puritan work ethic," Americans find it hard to simply relax, enjoy, and recreate.

We want to accomplish "something" that is measurable and meaningful when we recreate.

Bringing a uniquely American achievement orientation to our leisure time, we want to accomplish "something" that is measurable and meaningful when we recreate. Futurists Watts Wacker and Jim Taylor call this the "paradox of leisure," which is the blurring between work and play. For example, if you play golf with a customer, is it work or leisure and how can you tell the difference? Today with so much of business activity directed toward leisure and entertainment, we tend to define ourselves by our favorite recreational passion or pursuit, rather than through our job or work.

For goal-oriented Americans, in particular the hard-driving affluent, luxury consumers, achieving greater self-actualization is the objective for leisure time. So they spend their free time away from work responsibilities— along with serious amounts of money—pursuing leisure to self-actualize. From yoga class to spa vacations, adventure travel to gourmet cooking classes, Americans are pursuing rest and relaxation with a vengeance.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow defined the concept of self-actualization as the pinnacle of the hierarchy of human needs, to be satisfied only after the basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. According to Maslow, self-actualization refers to "man's desire for fulfillment . . . to become everything that one is capable of becoming."

For the typical American, especially the affluent whose physical needs are completely satisfied and who have everything one could want or need, what's next? That is the ultimate challenge for marketers today. Our society is so wealthy, that even the poorest in our society partake in luxury. Where else in the world would you find those at the bottom of the income ladder owning cars, color television sets, VCRs/DVD players, airconditioning, and other luxurious "necessities" of twenty-first-century life?

Marketers and retailers that sell entertainment and recreation products primarily serve consumers' self-actualization needs, for these products have no practical purpose other than providing emotional satisfaction. But to ensure the greatest long-term success, entertainment and recreation marketers need to connect with the consumers' inner emotional lives and create new products and services to meet those needs. For today's consumer with an excess of things, achieving self-actualization, as defined by Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, is the ultimate expression of their most compelling personal desire.

Americans are pursuing rest and relaxation with a vengeance.