Hard on the Hardwood

Basketball faces many challenges but remains a key year-round sport for team dealers.

While it may not command a ton of hard goods, basketball remains one of the top team sports for dealers. Why? Because all of those uniforms, warmups, bags, balls and fanwear are being purchased and used year-round by an increasing number of both boys and girls.

And don’t forget all of those backboards, rims and padding. Big-ticket items are a big deal these days as safety and performance combine to create greater demand.

The trends are fairly common everywhere you look in America’s schools, travel leagues and recreation programs. Yet it seems that it is the school programs that keep scoring for dealers.

Though challenging, basketball shoes were a solid seller this season for Blythe’s Team Sports in Valparaiso, IN, says sales manager Jason Dudley. And early indications from his five roadmen covering northern Indiana signal that healthy sales of game uniforms should make for a strong upcoming season.

Athletic Supply, in Odessa, TX, does well with basketball, notes Ronny Flowers, owner of the Texas team dealer and CEO of ASB Sports Acquisition, which operates several team dealers in seven states. “Girls and boys all the way up the line,” he says of basketball sales, with uniforms always a big part of the team basketball sale.

Athletic Supply does business across all the markets but relies on the school business, Flowers notes. “Our main concern is the school districts. We do some select business, but buyers for the select teams can change every year so it’s harder to chase that business.”

And the same holds true for Blythe’s, with nearly 85 percent of its basketball business done in the school market from middle schools to the college ranks. But the AAU business is growing, Dudley adds. “Those high-profile teams spend money on good concepts such as sublimated uniforms.” It also helps that the basketball seasons for select and schools don’t collide.

What really drives basketball sales are brand recognition, promotions and those all-important relationships, Dudley adds.

Challenges & Opportunities at All Levels

As with any team sport, basketball poses both some unique challenges and significant opportunities for team dealers looking to score big.

Footwear: It takes some fancy footwork to sell shoes, Dudley notes. Besides brands, colors are tough to forecast. “We work with our clients to get insight on those color choices and narrow our selection when booking SKUs,” he says. And to combat the big name in basketball, it works closely with its vendors such as Adidas to overcome Nike’s pull.

“Shoes are always a problem,” Flowers agrees. “They all want the school colors, but you can’t afford to stock all of them and the manufacturers never seem to have enough to outfit a team.”

Athletic Supply does its best to fill those needs but sometimes it boils down to offering an alternative. “If they want red and white, we may have to tell them that we only have black and white.”

Promotions. Giveaways offered by competitors and brands are a thorn in his side, Dudley adds. Combating them requires talking about the pros and cons of such offers, such as $1000 worth of free goods.

“We leverage our relationships to explain that they may be getting free dollars for coaches’ gear, but forget they are paying full price for the rest of the order.” If push comes to shove, Blythe’s addresses it as necessary and offers a similar proposal by working with reps for the brands it sells.

Uniforms. Apparel doesn’t pose a supply problem, Flowers says. “You can always find a supplier even if it’s a tight deadline.”

As for those uniforms, it’s no surprise that sublimation rules the courts. Gone are the days of tackle twill and heat press, Dudley and Flowers both note. There is a move, though, back to shorter inseams and rise on game shorts, Dudley adds.

Player Packs: Dealers are also finding ways to extend the sale beyond game day shoes and uniforms and one relatively new way is through player packs, which continue as a solid seller for Blythe’s, with online platforms for mandatory items picked by the coach. “They want to project an image,” so the team looks like, well, a team, with travel bags, warm-ups and game day T-shirts.

Those team stores are especially important for middle schools that don’t have the budgets of Texas high schools, Flowers adds. “That business is growing rapidly, and the team stores create cash flow for us.”

Fanwear: This extends to fanwear, as well. “The online platform has increased our sales beyond the team to the fan base. We can ship fanwear across the area and beyond for mom and dad, sisters and brothers, and more,” Dudley says.

• Blythe’s also has done well by offering game balls with laser stamping that showcases the school’s logo. Wilson does this as part of its program as the state-adopted ball, but Blythe’s also can customize a ball.

Big Ticket Items: There are other avenues to added sales as well to outfit courts. Athletic Supply will sell sideline chairs with team logos, along with wall padding. It does a good business with scorebooks and possession arrows as well. It also still sells some backboards and rims when the schools need them.

“All of our customers know we can fill that order,” Flowers says. But when it comes to new gyms, the contractor has already included that equipment as part of its bid, he notes.

Blythe’s offers an annual inspection and checklist for schools. Supplied by Gared, the checklist also provides recommendations for key replacement items needed for the next season.

“It allows us to get some interaction with the facility manager and AD,” Dudley notes. “It gives us access. We give them a checklist to look at and see what they need and budget accordingly. You are looking at extending the partnership. When you have a relationship like that, everything else falls into place.”

View the full story in the July / August print issue here.