Team Headwear

Hats Off...and On

Team dealers are still struggling to find some predictability in the cap business. Photo: Richardson Cap

The team cap market has undergone a lot of changes in the past few years. Whether that was a result of supply chain issues, inventory challenges or changes in ordering trends, team dealers have experienced difficulty predicting the market for teams.

And although many of 2023’s challenges have lessened a bit this year, team dealers are still struggling to find the same level of predictability they once saw before COVID-19. As teams experience shifts between coaching, budgets and a stronger sense of individuality among athletes, team dealers are bracing themselves for new headaches in 2024.

Take, for example, Jeff Covington, owner of Sports Spectrum, Chattanooga, TN, who simply says: “Our cap sales are all over the board.”

So even though hats are an essential part of any baseball uniform, which style players gravitate towards may change depending on team or player preference. That’s what makes projecting future sales so tricky for team dealers.

Thankfully, one style trend that’s remained constant over the past few years is trucker hats for school and travel teams.

“Snapback and fitted trucker mesh hats remain a hot item, especially paired with leather and woven patches,” says Dan Cordi, owner of Zappia Athletics, Vestal, NY, adding that unstructured, distressed crowns are often requested. Perforated hats have been a popular on-field option.

Still Popular on the Diamond: Tradition

That’s not to say that teams have ditched the stereotypical baseball cap altogether. Other dealers report that they place orders for trucker hats, but still see teams gravitating towards more classic styles as well.

“Trucker hats are trendy for travel because they are cool and comfortable,” says Covington. “School teams tend to wear traditional, classic hats.”

Like the teams near Chattanooga, Massachusetts-based teams are also not totally in favor of the trucker style.

“Not everyone loves the trucker hat,” reports Betsy Frey, owner of Holyoke Sporting Goods, Holyoke MA, who notes that many of the school teams in her region are still gravitating towards the traditional baseball cap.

As for softball, teams are sticking to their traditional visors, although some dealers are fulfilling less softball orders than others.

“We have seen a small resurgence in softball requests. Otherwise, we do not sell many visors,” reports Cordi.

“Visors are popular for our softball teams,” says Frey.

However in California, the market seems to be more tricky, as inventory trends have not persisted over the years.

“Things are always changing. Inventory we sold a few years ago we aren’t selling now,” says Ryan Nan, manager at Yours & Mine Sports, Modesto, CA. “Everything is becoming more customized because athletes want to have their own look and style,” says Nan.

Team stores are a major source of add-on cap sales for dealers. Photo: Cap America

Custom Makes a Return to the Top

Increasing individuality among athletes has become more common in all facets of the uniform, from shoes to socks and now this year, caps — making it trickier for dealers to fill any substantial orders. Nevertheless, custom hats have made a resurgence for 2024 as dealers are more equipped to do in-house customization and manufacturers have increased their embroidery capabilities.

“Custom hat components are become more readily available again, making custom programs a viable alternative. This helps tremendously when stock hat inventory is still not as consistent as pre-pandemic levels,” says Cordi.

“In our baseball high school and college markets we are always doing custom orders,” adds Covington, who does all of his own printing in-store, aside from 3D printing. “I think hat manufacturers have made big investments in lettering,” he says, noting that manufacturers are now doing more custom embroidery than they have in the past.

When it comes to travel teams, the types of caps – whether stock or custom – players are wearing depends on budgets. While some teams can afford to spend more money on their cap orders, others may not have as deep pockets.

“Travel teams don’t buy as high quality hats as high schools because their budgets are tight,” says Frey.

Unlike Frey, Cordi’s travel teams seem to focus more on specific styles.

“Travel teams often want more elaborate logos and embroidery locations and request a more custom look,” says Cordi.

For Nan, outfitting travel teams is far more challenging due to teams dissolving and players shifting around frequently.

“People around here switch teams constantly for travel sports,” he says.

The Team Store Advantage

One buying trend that has not been left behind in 2023 is ordering from online stores, which continues to be a life – and business – saver for team dealers.

“We are always going after the dad and/or granddad on our team stores for all sports,” says Covington. “We have hats on our retail floor. Otherwise, we depend heavily on online sales.”

“We have experienced a small increase in online store headwear sales, but the vast majority of our hat sales are team-based. We have also seen an increase in cap requests for businesses,” says Cordi. “We noticed hats are requested and sold more often through online stores now compared to past years.”

“California is picky about which styles they choose. Parents and fans want different hats,” says Nan, who says fulfilling those online orders catered to the teams’ families is difficult because individuality has taken precedence in his area.

Looking at the bottom line, whether or not team dealers have seen pre-pandemic levels return to their business continues to be all over the place.

“Supply chain has gotten much better,” says Covington, who reports that his sales have been up since 2022.

New LIneup Cards at Team

Additionally, changes in team organizations since the pandemic have impacted other team dealers’ business and have made it difficult for them to reach the numbers they once did.

“We are still struggling to get numbers where they used to be,” says Frey, who is noticing that less kids are playing team sports because COVID-19 disrupted many of the organizations handling sports in her region.

For others, lack of consistency in ordering and shifting budgets makes it harder to retain business, as coaches are constantly looking for the cheapest way to get caps on their players’ heads.

“Coaches switch vendors all the time now,” says Nan, who says loyalty is harder to find these days. “People are constantly making pricing comparisons to stuff we don’t have.”

As a result, teams near Modesto don’t seem to be prioritizing early ordering for the 2024 spring season.

“Nobody has asked for pricing for league uniforms yet, which causes inventory issues,” says Nan (in early January).

Team dealers may feel a level of uncertainty as to where their cap sales will take them in 2024 as organizations for both school and travel teams continue to change, however one thing will always remain.

“The hat is the most important part of the uniform when it comes to the baseball player,” says Frey.