Football returns to fields across America, but there have been challenges for dealers this season.
Football is back. It is back with youngsters in local youth leagues on Saturdays. It is back at varsity high school games on Friday nights. It’s back with colleges on weekends. And it's back with the pros on seemingly every day of the week.
But football is most certainly not completely back to normal. The side effects of COVID-19 have been substantial and continue to reverberate through the sport on all levels. When comparing the last three football seasons, they are all distinctly different, with different challenges and opportunities.
The good news is that most think the 2022 football season should be closer to what we have come to expect, although a return to pre-COVID “normalcy” may never occur. But after what team dealers have gone through, that may be acceptable.
Dealers Adjust Their Game Plans
This return to normalcy has not come without a few fumbles along the way for team dealers.
“The world of football opened up, but the football industry has not been able to keep up with the demand for product,” explains Joel Dunn, account manager for Performance Team Sports in Hialeah, FL. “The supply chain issues that are affecting society have had a big impact on football, especially in the area of plastics that are a necessary part of all helmets and shoulder pads.”
The supply chain issues have lingered for months — and they aren’t going away
“Teams were still waiting on product in November that had been ordered before the season started,” adds Dunn.
And, according to Dunn, prices for much of these hard-to-get football products are now higher because demand is greater than supply, plus tariffs have driven up prices.
There are bright spots, however. In Marietta, OH, Rod Zide, of Zide’s Sporting Goods, football is back to being profitable.
“Overall, when compared to 2020, sales were up,” he says.
But Zide admits that he has also experienced many of the same supply chain issues and delays.
“While high school football is back, it has been quite challenging to get product delivered to the schools, but I know we are not the only industry that has been negatively impacted by these delays,” says Zide, who sells gear to schools in both Ohio and West Virginia and says the biggest negative to the supply chain issues is that it has limited participation in many cases.
“It has probably caused some schools to make cuts and deny a kid the chance to play because the schools didn’t have enough uniforms or a helmet or protective padding,” he says. “Last year, COVID-19 totally shut down many sports and now the supply chain issues have thrown another monkey wrench into school sports. That’s not fair for the student-athlete.”
Meanwhile, in Columbia, MO, the one product normally on display for sale at Red Weir Athletic Supplies is the football helmet — but that’s not been the case this year.
“We usually sell a number of football helmets, especially youth football helmets, but we have not had any to sell this year,” says sales rep Davis Valencia. “The big issue is a lack of resin supplies by the helmet makers. They need the resins to make the helmets.”
Despite not being able to sell helmets, Red Weir has done well with other football items such as practice pants, wrist coaches, blocking sleds, goal post pads, field paint, Wilson footballs and a few football jerseys.
“We sell lots of field paint because every team needs to mark and paint its fields,” says Valencia. “Anytime that we get a shipment of paint, it’s sold within a matter of days.”
In Terre Haute, IN, sales of hard goods in football for Coaches Corner were up roughly 35 percent, while soft goods sales were 15–20 percent better in 2021 versus 2020, according to manager Doc Claussen.
“The sales would have been higher if we had received deliveries for everything that was ordered,” says Claussen. “I have items that I ordered in May and June that have yet to arrive — and I’m still missing 26 helmets.”
To avoid any potential delays in 2022, Claussen intends to get next year’s order submitted a little earlier.
“I plan to place my football order a month earlier,” he says.
Alive and Well in the Southwest
In Grove, OK, football is thriving at Sports Locker, according to owner Garret Crane, who reports that 2021 mirrored results from back in 2019.
“Even with the pandemic, we didn’t see that big of change (in our football business),” he says. “In football, the demand is there for all product.
But, he adds, prices are rising because demand is greater than supply. But people understand and he is spending more time and resources looking for product that they need to fulfill an order.
Unlike many team dealers, Crane’s shelves are filled with cleated footwear and it sells. “I have no problem selling footwear for football,” says Crane, who also has a vibrant youth football business.
In the central Ohio community of Coshocton, football sales for Local Team Shop and owner Scott Nelson have been strong.
“Football has been great for us this year,” says Nelson. “Demand has been high and the energy in the sport has been high.”
Local Team Shop has three sales categories in football — coaches are buying staff shirts, teams are purchasing practice jerseys, pants, warm-ups and travel apparel and fans are buying team apparel packages, which include hoodies, T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and backpacks.
One of the keys to the survival for Local Team Shop during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the sales of customized masks, which it sold through the website www.safefaced.com.
“We sold more than 65,000 masks and generated $300,000 in revenue to get us through the pandemic,” says Nelson.
Deep in the heart of Texas, the football business for Complete Athlete, Port Neches, TX, was solid this past fall and fan wear sales were even better than expected.
“Our football fan wear sales exploded this year,” says co-owner Carrie Garcia. “We have the greatest football fans here in Texas.”
Garcia was also pleased with the sales rebound after the COVID-impacted football season in the fall of 2020.
“Our sales to high school and youth teams were very good,” Garcia says. “We sell everything to teams, hard goods and soft goods, with the exception of football helmets.”