The cheerleading business is soaring.
The school-spirited team sport catapulted into the spotlight with the debut of Netflix’s six-part docuseries “Cheer,” which chronicles the young male and female cheerleaders at Navarro, a community college 50 miles south of Dallas in Corsicana, Texas, with 9,000 students.
In it, athletes overcome adversity to push themselves to their physical limit as they gear up for nationals, the annual competition in Daytona, Florida, where athletes get just two minutes and 15 seconds to pull off a seamless routine. The spectacle is televised on ESPN2 and ESPNU, reaching more than 100 million homes and 32 countries annually. And the industry has proven to be a lucrative one for uniform retailers, gym owners and wholesalers who have tapped into the estimated $2 billion market.
Karen Noseff Aldridge, the founder of Texas-based Rebel Athletic, makes the Navarro cheer competition uniforms seen in the Netflix docuseries. She says the cheer uniform industry alone is worth around $450 million.
“The cheerleading industry can be insular, sometimes you feel like we’re all working in our own little bubble, yet it’s so big,” Aldridge, who started the business in 2012 with $10,000, told FOX Business.
She realized just how lucrative it could be a year later when her crystal-clad custom uniforms made it to Cheerleading Worlds at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Within 48 hours the company made $600,000, she said. “It put us on the map,” she said, adding that today the business has grown 26 percent since last year, with 12 percent coming from direct-to-consumer retail.
Her uniforms cost between $350 and as much as $700 each, depending on the custom make and design. She’s been getting hundreds of requests internationally to have her uniforms distributed throughout Europe after the Netflix docuseries dropped, she said.
And there’s a big demand. Nearly four million students from elementary school through college participate in the sport across the U.S., according to data from Statista.com. Aldridge’s Rebel Athletic competes with billion-dollar company Varsity Brands, the No. 1 seller of cheerleading uniforms and gear, which sits at the top of the money-making pyramid. The company has been around since 1974 and operates high school, college and international competition championships. It also runs cheer camps and the industry magazine American Cheerleader.
Parents are shelling out thousands of dollars so their kids can compete. On average, training can cost anywhere between $140 to $200 per month to pay for coaching and access to a gym; competitions around the country about 10 to 12 times per year can cost between $1,000 to $1,500 for admission fees and a uniform is $325 on average, according to industry experts.
"A typical all-star cheerleader pays close to $4,000 a year, and that's just to get out on the floor for a full year," said Kellie Cady-Varga, vice president at Rebel Athletics, who has two daughters in competitive cheerleading. "There's additional costs that come along with travel and hotel."
And the competition to be captain in the competitive cheer industry is fierce. Varsity Brands sued another uniform retailer, Star Athletica, for copyright infringement, claiming it knocked off its signature chevron uniforms and sold them for a lower price point. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Varsity Brands in 2017, stating that its uniform design was protected under US trademark law. The ruling has made it hard for rivals to compete with the business. Varsity Brands did not immediately return a request for comment.