On My Mind … Goodbye, So Long and Amen to 2020

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It’s that time of year again and never, ever before have I been so eager to turn the page on the calendar to a new year. Not that January 1 is going to all of a sudden magically cure all of the team industry’s ills, but at least we won’t have to look at that wretched number – 2020 – every day again.

The team business struggled in 2020, just as so many other industries felt the scourge of COVID-19. But the impact on team dealers and their vendors was felt just as strongly, if not more, than many other hard-hit businesses. Cancelled or curtailed seasons in the spring and fall (and now, unfortunately, it’s looking like maybe winter sports, too), the loss of camp and league sales in the summer, the cutting back of those vital online team shop sales to parents and players – they all hit hard. Add in disrupted shipments and lack of personal meetings in a business built on personal relationships and the extent of the disruption becomes clear.

Vendors have felt it just as hard, if not harder. Delayed payments from the likes of BSN Sports and many of the smaller independents, cancelled orders from dealers who had no choice but to pass along their lost sales to their suppliers and the absence of in-person sales calls or trade shows hit them as well. No one escaped.

Team Insight faced all of these same obstacles these past nine months, yet on a different scale than our loyal readers. We found that what we do – report on the news and trends in the business of team sports – was needed more than ever during a pandemic where personal contact was minimal. But what we missed was the chance to go out and see our readers in person at the buying group shows and BSN sales meeting and other trips to the front lines around the country.

(I particularly missed my annual excursion to Las Vegas the week before Thanksgiving for the Sports Inc. show; that is always a favorite trip of mine. And it was only the second time since 1992 that I have not been able to go to the NSGA Management Conference and Team Dealer Summit, another favorite few days on my team sports calendar.)

Yet here we are, most of us still in the race – although admittedly huffing and puffing to the finish line. And there is a simple reason for our ability to still turn on the lights in our virtual offices in the morning — team dealers are a resilient bunch. The past year dealt a blow that closed down a lot of businesses – and, yes, some dealers did lock their doors for good and layoffs and/or furloughs among both dealers and vendors were not uncommon – yet the business of team sports marches on.

Team sports are not going anywhere. Yes, there will certainly be a lot of excess inventory around when baseball and softball players hit the fields again this spring. There won’t be as much booster club money available for all the extras that add to a dealer’s bottom line. And, unfortunately, some kids who found other things to do than play team sports may never come back to the games.

But there will boys and girls from T-Ball to travel out there again when the weather warms, and there is optimism that summer leagues and the all-important fall school season will be back — probably stronger than ever. You can’t keep  team sports down.

And you can’t keep team dealers down. So my end-of-the-year message is to say Goodbye, So Long and Amen to 2020 and to welcome 2021 with open arms. The glow at the end of this very long tunnel for team sports is from the Friday Night Lights across America. The pandemic didn’t extinguish those lights. It just made all of us realize how important they are – and how good it will feel when they shine on all of us soon.

Stay safe out there.

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