Team Baseball

Back at Bat


With Major League Baseball pitchers and catchers set to report to Spring Training in warm locales from Florida to Arizona, can the youth, high school and college seasons be far behind? That’s the true harbinger of Spring for players, coaches, parents, fans and, most importantly, team dealers ready to swing for the fences with America’s Pastime.

As the 2023 season approaches, the financial box score for the sport at the youth level remains impressive.

From a dollars-and-cents perspective, sales of baseball gear steadily increased from 2016 to 2019, had a significant drop in 2020 (the COVID year) and then began an upward swing in 2021, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s (SFIA) 2022 Manufacturers’ Sales by Category Report.  

According to that SFIA study, wholesale sales of baseball gear (bats, balls, protective gear, uniforms and cleats) were $1.399 billion in 2021, up slightly from $1.389 billion in 2019. It’s worth noting that the wholesale size of the caps/hats category, of which a significant percentage of headwear is the baseball-style cap/hat, is rock solid. The caps/hats category has exhibited steady annual growth since 2016 when it was $487 million. In 2021, the caps/hats business had grown to $644 million, at wholesale.

The participation numbers reflect this strength. The SFIA research indicates there are 15.6 million baseball players in the U.S., making it the second most popular team sport in the U.S. behind only basketball, with 27.1 million players.  

As recently as 2016, overall participation in baseball was 14.8 million and it had dipped as low as 12.9 million players back in 2012. It is heartening the see this turnaround, especially among what are classified as “core” players — those who play baseball more than 13 days a year.

Of the current 15.6 million baseball players, 52.6 percent  (8.2 million) fall into that all-important core category. 

And it comes as no surprise that the majority of baseball players are in their pre-teens, teens, 20s, and 30s, with just more half (52 percent) between the ages of six and 17; nearly 70 percent of all  of those core players are in the same age group.

Two more baseball stats: From a household income perspective, 36 percent of male baseball players come from households that make more than $100,000 a year and of the 15.6 million baseball players in the U.S., 83.3 percent of them are male.  

Geographically, the four most popular regions for baseball players in the U.S. are the South Atlantic (FL, GA, SC, NC, VA, MD, DE and WV — 18.2 percent of all players), Pacific (CA, WA and OR — 17.3 percent), Middle Atlantic (NY, NJ and PA — 17.1 percent) and East North Central (OH, IN, IL, WI and MI — 15.9 percent).

Playing Ball in 2023!

Because of its rich tradition, sold participation numbers and place in America’s sporting culture, it’s no surprise that team dealers across America really look forward to baseball season.

In Whitehouse Station, NJ, 2023 is expected to be an exceptional year for selling baseball for Darrow’s Sporting Edge. And it all started in the fourth quarter of 2022.

“During the holidays, many people bought a hot bat, pro glove or catcher’s gear as Christmas gifts,” reports Vinnie Iaione, custom orders manager at Darrow’s. “Right now, the most popular baseball item is the Bolt batting glove.”

Darrow’s Sporting Edge begins accepting uniform orders in January for the spring season and in March and April demand for cleats, bats, fielding gloves, batting helmets, socks, belts and baseballs kicks in.

“We’re expecting a strong year selling baseball this year,” adds Iaione.

In the Midwest, selling and delivering baseball gear, equipment and apparel is a key part of the daily business for Coaches Corner in Terre Haute, IN.

“When you combine baseball with softball, it’s our number-one category of sales,” reports manager Doc Claussen, who points out that most of the dealer’s baseball sales are to local recreation leagues, high schools, travel teams and men’s adult baseball leagues buying uniforms, baseballs, fielding gloves, batting gloves, catcher’s gear, batting helmets, bases, portable mounds for indoor use and field additives such as chalk liner, powdered chalk and white paint.  

The two categories that Coaches Corner doesn’t sell widely are cleats and bats.

“Today, kids are surfing the Internet to buy their cleats and bats,” Claussen, who has a unique perspective on baseball in Indiana as he’s also been a baseball umpire for 40 years, explains, “There’s a wider selection of product on display.”

While demand remains strong, Claussen complains that getting product delivered to his store remains an issue: “The supply chain issues are still causing delays in getting product shipped to us.”

Meanwhile, in Battle Creek, MI, Jack Pearl’s Sports Center has a vibrant business selling uniforms, caps, belts, socks, baseballs and ball buckets to high school and youth travel teams.

“We also sell a great deal of spirit wear to parents and fans through Order My Gear,” reports owner Keith Manning. They, too, don’t sell shoes, but do sell “a handful” of gloves and bats.  

“If a player wants a specific fielding glove or bat, we can order it for that player,” he explains.

Manning is optimistic that 2023 will be a strong year for sales since 2022 was better than expected and supply chain issues are becoming less of a concern.

“Last year, our baseball sales went pretty well since we ran out of much of our inventory,” he says. “Thankfully, things are getting better on supply chain issues.”

In Columbia, MO, the baseball business will be steady for Red Weir Athletic Supplies, according to owner Mike Weir, whose baseball clients are high schools and local recreation leagues who are buying baseballs, catcher’s gear, uniforms, hats, socks, fielding gloves and batting helmets.

Yet one thing that bothers Weir’s is the continued rise in popularity of travel baseball, which he believes is actually having a negative long-term impact on participation.

“Too many players are playing too many games at too young of an age,” he says. “Far too many kids are losing interest in baseball  too young.”