For most sports fans of a certain age, their first exposure to wrestling and one of the sport’s most indelible images can be traced back to the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich when American Dan Gable won the gold medal in the men’s Freestyle Lightweight Division. It capped off a career where he was a two-time NCAA Division I champion and a gold medalist in the World Championships. In college, he competed for Iowa State University.
From 1976 to 1997, Gable was the head wrestling coach at the Cyclones’ cross-state rival, the University of Iowa. During his stint at Iowa, Gable’s teams compiled a dual meet record of 355–21–5. He coached 152 All-Americans, 45 national champions, 106 Big Ten champions, and 12 Olympians, including eight Olympic medalists. His teams won 21 Big Ten championships and 15 NCAA Division I titles. He was also a three-time U.S. Olympic wrestling head coach.
There was no person or face that better represented wrestling in the U.S. than Dan Gable.
Now, freestyle wrestling is a little different as more young athletes are wrestling than during the heyday of Dan Gable. One more big difference: girls are engaged in freestyle wrestling at all levels and are seen by many as important to the future of the sport.
Dealers Take To the Mat
The sport of wrestling is generating plenty of sales activity for the Scheel’s retail outlet in Coralville, IA, a suburb of Iowa City where interest in wrestling has always been strong. Today the level of participation and interest in Iowa is even greater since more females are wrestling.
According to Logan Schropp, the sports and game manager of Scheel’s, his store built a separate wing of merchandise this year to specifically cater to the product needs of female wrestlers. Now wrestlers of both genders are walking into Scheel’s to buy singlets, headgear, shoes, socks, tape and bags. The one major item that Scheel’s doesn’t sell is the actual wrestling mat.
Another Iowa-based team dealer, Iowa Sports Supply in Cedar Falls, is also heavily invested in selling wrestling. Owner Jake Koch laments that while interest in wrestling has always been strong in Iowa, unfortunately it doesn’t require that much gear, unlike football, softball and baseball.
“Our biggest selling category is mat tape. We sell lots of mat tape,” he says, along with singlets, uniforms, headgear, wrist bands and ankle bands.
The one category Iowa Sports Supply doesn’t sell is footwear. “We stay away from selling footwear, it’s too hard to predict with trying to predict sizing, models, and colors,” Koch explains.
A bright spot for Koch, like for many others is the addition of girls and women in the sport. “Girls’ wrestling is growing quickly,” he reports, also pointing to the emergence of youth wrestling clubs. “This business has been good and is getting better,” he says.
A Recruiting Opportunity
In Indiana and Illinois, wrestling remains popular with high school boys and girls, as demand for wrestling product is strong with Coaches Corner, based in Terre Haute, IN, where Doc Claussen, a manager with Coaches Corner, has been heavily involved in wrestling as both a salesmen and as a high school wrestling official/referee.
According to Claussen, Indiana is now a very popular recruiting area for colleges looking for wrestlers and the corresponding surge in participation has generated more revenue for team dealers.
Sales of singlets, compression shirts, compression shorts, combat shorts, shoes, headgear, mat tape and the disinfectant spray, specifically Whizzer from Mueller, have been steady. And, with the continued emergence of women’s wrestling, demand for wrestling products continues to expand for Coaches Corner.
His greatest concern, however, remains losing wrestling business to Internet-based sellers. “Two of our biggest competitors in wrestling are a pair of Internet-based companies, RUDIS and MyHOUSE,” Claussen reports. “That’s the nature of the beast these days in team sales.”
Nevertheless he remains bullish on the sport, pointing to women’s wrestling at the high school level becoming more popular in Indiana than in neighboring Illinois.
Meanwhile, the wrestling business continues to get better for Blythe’s Sports Shop in Valparaiso, IN.
“Local high school wrestling programs are purchasing singlets, custom headgear, custom warm-ups, gear bags, wrestling shoes and lots of mat tape,” reports sales manager Jason Dudley, who estimates the dealer sells roughly 200 cases of mat tape each season.
In addition to the local high school wrestling teams, Blythe’s also sells wrestling gear, clothing and accessories to a middle schools, local wrestling clubs and a few local colleges.
According to Dudley, his six years of experience as a youth wrestling coach have helped him as a salesman when dealing with coaches and parents.
“My knowledge of the sport goes hand-in-hand with being a salesman as I have built up trust with wrestlers, their parents and the coaches,” he explains. “They can trust me with my advice.”
Pinning Sales On Youth Wrestling
Over in Battle Creek, MI, the wrestling business is “hit or miss” for Jack Pearl’s Sports Center, according to owner Keith Manning.
“We sell singlets, compression shirts, fighter shorts, headgear, knee pads and knee sleeves, but the business is not consistent,” says Manning, adding that he does not sell shoes.
The one bright spot for Manning’s wrestling business is in youth wrestling.
“We are doing more business with local youth wrestling clubs,” he says. “Many young wrestlers prefer the two-piece uniforms as they are more comfortable in a shirt and a pair of shorts rather than a one-piece singlet.”
While there are more than 7300 boys from 259 high schools in Missouri that wrestle, unfortunately they are not buying their uniforms, headgear, shoes, and accessories from Red Weir Athletic Supplies in Columbia, MO.
“Everybody is buying what they need from wrestling from websites,” reports owner Mike Weir. “We aren’t selling anything in wrestling.”
But out west in Las Vegas, NV, the wrestling business fills a nice niche for Jerry Ocuda, owner of Turf Sporting Goods.
“In wrestling, more and more teams are buying sublimated jerseys,” Ocuda reports. “We are also selling headgear, warm-ups and jackets. And, now girls are wrestling, too.”