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High Pitch


Baseball is in an unusual situation. For the first time this century and for only the second time in nearly 30 years, Major League Baseball is involved in a labor dispute. That causes fans to shake their heads in disgust and retailers that sell MLB-licensed merchandise to get a little nervous.  

Thankfully, no such animosity exists in the world of youth baseball. In fact, everyone – players, coaches, schools, team dealers and their suppliers, even writers – is downright happy to be looking forward to a full baseball season.

After two years of COVID disruptions, everyone is anxious to just Play Ball! As a result, interest in high school and youth baseball in the U.S. is strong and established.

“High school baseball is in phenomenal shape,” reports Elliot Hopkins, director of sports, sanctioning and student services at the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). “We will begin this baseball season with minimal rule changes and the promise of new programs emerging in different pockets of the country.”

The number one goal of high school baseball is to keep all players safe while promoting fair play.

“Safety and risk-minimization are always at the forefront of the start of each season and we anticipate another wonderful year with our participation numbers growing,” adds Hopkins.

In addition to safety measures, product innovation has helped propel interest in youth baseball.

“Technology is always in the discussion when you talk about baseball,” said Hopkins. “The equipment is always improving, from gloves to bats and everything in between. The creativity of new products to improve the performance of today’s high school player is astonishing.”

As a result, dealers should be encouraged that the future of high school baseball in the U.S. – their core market – is bright.

“We are very optimistic that interscholastic baseball will continue to thrive,” says Hopkins.

One interesting growth area is with girls in the game. “We have some schools that have girls who want to play baseball, as well,” says Hopkins. “We welcome them with open arms. Baseball is different than our other diamond sport, softball, but it is welcoming to those who want to play baseball.”

Dealers Just Want To Play Ball

The Spring 2022 campaign can’t come a minute to soon for team dealers who have battled through two challenging seasons.

In Whitehouse Station, NJ, baseball is the top-selling category for Darrow’s Sporting Edge and the dealer is anxious to return to pre-COVID levels selling fielding gloves, bats, batting gloves, batting helmets, baseballs, uniforms and cleats to its ever-expanding baseball customer base. Demand for certain items is higher at specific times of the year.

“We just had a big demand for fielding gloves during the holidays because gloves are a premium gift item,” reports Darrow’s custom order manager Vinnie Iaione, who says bats were also strong for the dealer in January along with turf cleats for winter workouts.

According to Iaione, orders of uniforms are being placed earlier this year so they have a better chance of arriving on time, while items such as baseballs, batting helmets, batting gloves and cleats are made closer to the beginning of the baseball season in the spring.

In West Lebanon, NH, even after two disrupted seasons baseball remains a key category for Stateline Sports, but not until the ice and snow melt away.

“We don’t start selling anything related to baseball until the second week of March when high school baseball players buy their gloves,” says Bud Hill, baseball manager at Stateline Sports. “Then in April middle schoolers buy what they need, followed by younger baseball players buying youth product in April.”

Most of the baseball business for Stateline Sports is generated by walk-in traffic — both individual players and teams.  In addition to gloves, Hill sells baseballs, catcher’s gear, cleats and bats.

Ordering Comes Earlier

In Wilmington, DE, sales of baseball-related gear, clothing, equipment and accessories are off to a great start for Al’s Sporting Goods, which sells to local recreational leagues, travel teams and high school squads.

“We sell lots of uniforms and we had a strong Christmas season for selling bats and gloves,” reports owner Bob Hart, adding that half of its leagues ordered their uniforms early because they remember the supply issues they had last year in getting hats. One league has already ordered its all-star uniforms that they won’t use until June or July.

Al’s Sporting Goods also has a strong business for cleats, baseballs, socks, practice apparel and even belts.

Baseball also remains a top-selling category for Medallion’s Sporting Goods in the south Florida city of Jupiter. For sales manager Kevin Licata, about the only time of the year that he doesn’t sell anything connected to baseball is in late December for a few days between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Sales Bright in the Sunshine State

Because of south Florida’s year-round great weather, a baseball practice or game is being played by some team in the area nearly every day. In the last decade even high school teams are playing fall ball in September and October.

While Medallion’s can meet the head-to-toe needs of every player that visits its storefront, Licata says that the majority of his baseball sales items are cleats and clothing.

“Teams and players are buying pants, shirts, socks, hats and the right kind of footwear needed to play baseball,” he says.

“Our cleat business is hit or miss. Kids have so many other purchasing options to buy their cleats — they have access to technology when searching for the right pair of cleats.” – Doc Claussen, Coaches Corner

And now that baseball bat performance standards are set and are not changing, Medallion’s is selling more bats.

“It’s a lot easier to sell bats now that all the changes in bat performance have been decided,” says Licata.

Accessories, too, are big sellers at Medallion. “More than any other sport, baseball has a number of knick-knack items that players need,” says Licata.

Another south Florida retail outlet that specializes in baseball is Scotty’s Sport Shop in Royal Palm Beach. Owner Jerry Steuerer’s focus on selling baseball is to local recreational leagues and travel teams.  

“Baseball and softball are easily my top two categories,” says Steuerer, with a major portion of that generated from screenprinting shirts and jerseys. His inventory also includes batting helmets, youth bats, socks, fielding gloves, batting gloves, caps, pants, balls, bat bags and a limited selection of cleats.

Steuerer also keeps busy throughout the year as many communities organize recreational baseball leagues in the spring and the fall, while travel teams in Florida play throughout the year.

The COVID Impact in the Bayou State

In Sterlington, LA, baseball also holds its own for D & H Sports, which sells uniforms and accessories such as gloves, baseballs, batting gloves, socks and batting gloves, according to owner Glenn Hendrix.

Hendrix used to sell more bats, gloves and cleats, but the arrival of COVID put a big dent in sales of those items.

“COVID taught many players to look for better prices of bats, gloves and cleats on the Internet,” he laments.

Meanwhile, in Terre Haute, IN, Coaches Corner has an extensive inventory of baseball products it sells from November through May.

“We are a one-stop shopping destination for baseball,” says manager Doc Claussen. “We sell uniforms, stirrup socks, batting helmets, bats, batting gloves, catcher’s gear, L-screens, tees, bases, belts, and three brands of baseballs  — Rawlings, Wilson and Champro.”  

After two years of COVID disruptions, everyone is anxious to just Play Ball! As a result, interest in high school and youth baseball in the U.S. is strong and established.

The one baseball category that is not a big seller for Coaches Corner is footwear.

“Our cleat business is hit or miss,” says Claussen, who is also a high school baseball umpire in his free time. “Kids have so many other purchasing options to buy their cleats — they have access to technology when searching for the right pair of cleats.”

In Cedar Falls, Iowa, baseball is a key category for Iowa Sports Supply Company. “We sell everything in baseball, from baseballs to uniforms to bats to gloves to cleats,” says owner Derek Netten.

It’s worth noting that while high school baseball play came to a grinding halt in March 2020, the high school baseball season in Iowa was played without interruption because it is a summer sport and somewhat dodged the COVID disruption. The high school baseball season in Iowa in 2022 is expected to be played without interruption.

Baseball by the Numbers

Even after a disrupted two spring seasons, baseball remains the second most popular team sport in the U.S. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), there are 15.7 million baseball players, placing it behind only basketball, with 27.8 million players, as America’s most popular team sport.  

Among other diamond numbers:

  • As recently as 2012, overall participation in baseball was as low as 12.9 million.
  • Of the current 15.7 million players, nearly 50 percent (7.6 million) are considered core players who play baseball more than 13 days a year. (In 2019 there were only 9.1 million of these core players.)
  • Even though the number of baseball players in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s is growing, more half (52 percent) of baseball players are still between the ages of 6 and 17 and nearly 70 percent of those core players are in that age group.
  • Children are playing baseball in a variety of venues and locales. For those ages 6-12, 23 percent play on a school team; 50 percent are on a team in a local league; 23 percent play in a PE class at school; and 16 percent are playing on a travel team.
  • For those ages 13-17, 47 percent are playing on a school team; 30 percent are playing on a team in a local league; 21 percent play in a PE class; and 21 percent play on a travel team.
  • While participation remains dominated by players younger than 17, nearly 25 percent of baseball players actually have a college degree or higher.
  • From a household income perspective, 35 percent of male baseball players come from households that make more than $100,000 a year.  
  • Geographically, the four most popular regions for baseball players are the South Atlantic (FL, GA, SC, NC, VA, MD, DE and WV, representing 18 percent of all players), Middle Atlantic (NY, NJ and PA, 17 percent), Pacific (CA, WA and OR – also 17 percent) and East North Central (OH, IN, IL, WI and MI, 16 percent).
  • From an education perspective, baseball is like a game of polar opposites —49 percent have not graduated from high school yet, while another 26 percent have at least a college degree.

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Jan 24, 2022


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