Team Socks

Changing Socks

Photo: FilippoBacci/istock

Just like every other segment within the team sports business, the team sock market has experienced a basket full of changes in the past few years, from supply chain issues to ditching custom for plain socks last season to a point where teams had to adapt to wearing any sock that was available to them.

Now a new challenge has arisen — one that has come as a surprise to some team dealers who typically have a reliable sock business season after season. It seems that teams are buying less socks than in the past. What was once a uniform staple seems to be an afterthought for teams, with much of the sale now being made directly to individuals, often through online team stores.

“Most of my teams do not spend money on socks, it’s an extra add-on that the program fundraises for,” explains John Kennedy, owner of Sportsmen’s Den, Mt. Shasta, CA.

The cause most likely stems from supply chain challenges the past few years to limited sock options. As a result teams were resorting to plain styles of socks in order to have a complete uniform. Even though there has been a slight return to previous product and style demand, buying habits do seem to have been changed.

“Nobody is buying socks. People might be buying them online or elsewhere,” laments Ryan Nan, manager of Yours and Mine Sports, Modesto, CA.

A large component of this may have to do with the influence of coaches, especially younger coaches who are less focused on the accessories associated with uniforms such as socks and belts.

“People forget about socks, belts and pants because they forget to order them when they’re shopping online,” says Nan.

“For me, socks are still prevalent, but the change I’ve seen is that coaches are not emphasizing consistency with shoes, which is affecting socks,” says Jeff Covington, owner of Sports Spectrum, Chattanooga, TN.

With shoes becoming more of an individualized choice, especially in basketball, players are given more liberty to choose what socks they want to pair with their shoes to help differentiate their personal style.

“I am not seeing the team aspect in basketball as much anymore,” says Kennedy.

Player Styles Change

Players seem to be more particular about their appearance, which has also sparked new trends, especially in baseball where players are wearing their pants rolled down, which makes their socks less apparent as part of their uniform.

“Everyone being out on the field in the same sock is not as important as it once was,” says Covington, who has certainly noticed this trend among the teams in his area.

How this new buying trend in socks affects each team dealer’s business varies. Some have felt the decrease in sales, while others may not be as focused on the decline in their sock business.

“Our sock business these days is minimal at best, consisting mainly of solid color multi-sport tube socks purchased either by a school or travel team or by a parent at retail,” says Jerry Luna, owner of First String Sports, Fresno, CA. “They are definitely not a money driver in our product mix.”

Last season, many team dealers reported that the coaches treated socks as an afterthought, still wanting to order them but forgetting to include them in their initial orders. This caused dealers to plan ahead and order to help mitigate any delays in teams receiving their shipments. However, those who tried to prepare this year came up short as sock sales did not come in as hot as planned.

“Typically you can anticipate a certain level of sales, but this year is a weird year,” says Nan. “For the most part sales are down across the board.”

Fortunately, in these times of uncertainty in the sock market, not all dealers are feeling the hit of losing their normal level of sock business.

“Socks are just an add-on for me, so the drop in sales is not as prevalent,” says Covington.

Although the sales are down, they are not gone completely. Dealers are still fulfilling orders for socks on some levels, but not in the same capacity.

“Seventy-five to 85 percent of what I sell is the basic sock for baseball,” says Kennedy.

Though Kennedy reports he is still doing some custom business, it is only roughly 10 percent of what he sells  these days. Teams seem to be happy with just a plain and simple sock, which was also the norm last season and a trend born in the COVID-induced supply shortages of the past couple of seasons.

“Teams are ordering mostly stock from us,” says David Mauch, who handles purchasing at Lima Sporting Goods, Lima, OH.

Another common theme among teams this year is lack of brand preference. Whereas certain vendors used to be popular among coaches and athletes, the name brands don’t matter as much this year.

“Coaches seem to be instructing players to wear certain colors, not certain brands or styles,” says Covington. “We still try to support sock manufacturers and buy, but it’s not what it used to be.”

Part of this decision comes from the players, who are consumed year-round with sports, with little time in between seasons. As a result, socks are of minor importance to athletes who are gearing up for a different sport each season.

“A lot of the kids that help coaches make buying decisions are multi-sport athletes, so they are not thinking ahead to the next season,” says Kennedy.

A positive for team dealers is that supply chain issues seem to be a thing of the past, which means ordering uniforms as a whole has become relatively painless in comparison to recent years.

“Supply chain has been really good compared to the past couple of years,” says Nan.

Though Kennedy reports that his retail business is still seeing some delays, his team business is back to normal standards.

But now a new challenge has raised its ugly head: Rising costs.

“It’s crazy how much costs have gone up,” says Nan, who feels that many people order individually online from large sports retailers rather than with their teams at their local store to save money.

With that in mind, Covington feels that manufacturers have had to re-invent their sock business to keep up with the ever-changing consumer demand. What used to be standard across the board seems to change from season to season as sock vendors are offering more features such as sublimation.

“I think the times are just changing,” he says.