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On The Rebound


Think back to a little more than a year ago when one of America’s favorite sports pastimes – NCAA March Madness – was cancelled due to the pandemic. Tough times for team sports amid dark times in America.

But then recall March 2021, when the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were once again able to take center stage and capture the hearts, minds and brackets of America sports fans. That event perhaps more than any other single event symbolized the return of team sports to an America emerging from the pandemic.

And team dealers could not be more pleased. Some had a somewhat successful, although trimmed down, high school and recreation basketball season earlier this year. Others were completely shut out. Now, based on feedback from dealers around the U.S., the air is back in the ball and basketball is in great shape headed into the all-important 2021-22 buying season.

Yes, the world of basketball is ready to shoot and score in a new, hopefully post-COVID world.

Around the Court

In Delaware, the recreation and high school basketball seasons went off as scheduled last winter, which was good news for Al’s Sporting Goods in Wilmington, DE, since the team dealer sells uniforms, basketballs, socks, practice gear, basketball rims and some shoes.

Owner Bob Hart expects the upcoming basketball business to be more vibrant than it was during the 2020-21 season. The one part of his basketball business that struggles is the selling of footwear because so many players are buying their shoes online.

“Selling basketball footwear is not what it used to be for team dealers like us,” says Hart. Nevertheless, he is optimistic about the upcoming season

That optimism can be found in Florida as well, as all sports continue to have strong showings — basketball is certainly no exception.

“Basketball will be totally back to normal for us this coming winter,” says Becky Whipp, co-owner of Dave’s Sporting Goods in Vero Beach, FL. While Dave’s Sporting Goods doesn’t focus on selling basketball uniforms, it does well with basketballs, player packs, shooter shirts and the padded leg sleeves.

In Jupiter, FL, after an up-and-down winter the local youth leagues had strong participation this past spring, according to Kevin Licata, manager of Medallion’s Sporting Goods, which bodes well for 2021-22.

“To keep kids safer in our local rec basketball leagues this year, they used some outdoor courts for games,” says Licata.  

At the high school level in Florida, the basketball season was played in its entirety for both boys and girls, though COVID issues did cause games to be cancelled or postponed.

Indiana Plays Ball

In the basketball-crazy state of Indiana, where this year’s men’s NCAA Division I basketball tournament was held, the sport had a great year, especially considering the disruption of play a year earlier.

“We got through the boys’ and girls’ high school basketball season and crowned champions. The only difference is that games were not played before capacity crowds in the gyms, but that should change next season,” reports Jim Brown, a salesman at Kratz Sporting Goods in Clarksville, IN. “I’m hearing very positive things about basketball. Sports are becoming important again and I expect a full basketball season this coming winter.”

And, with basketball teams playing a full season, sales should be solid for Kratz since it sells everything to do with the sport.

“We do it all in basketball,” says Brown. “We sell shoes, socks, uniforms, practice gear, basketballs, rims and entire basketball systems, if necessary.”

In Iowa, everybody – players, parents of players, coaches and fans -- is expecting to have a full basketball season this winter.

“I have already ordered some basketball product and it’s been delivered on time, as ordered,” says Derrik Netten, president of Iowa Sports Supply in Cedar Rapids, IA. “I expect basketball season and our business to be back to normal.”

Meanwhile, out in Hawaii, basketball is expected to make a complete return after not being played at all in the 2020/21 season.

“All indications are that it will be business as usual here in Hawaii for high school and rec basketball,” says Stanley Costales, Jr., owner of Sport Line in Hilo, HI.

Travel Hoops Are Back

While so much attention is focused on the high school and collegiate levels this coming winter, the sport is already thriving at the travel level and has been for months.

For instance, in the south Florida community of Wellington, during the weekend of March 6-7, the Wellington Wolves travel basketball organization and US Amateur Basketball co-hosted their 18th annual March Madness tournament. The numbers associated with this tournament were eye-opening in today’s COVID-fearful society: 202 games, 97 teams and 75 referees. Fans were expected to adhere to social distancing procedures and to wear masks, but the games were played and the event was conducted without any issues.

According to event coordinator Chris Fratalia, 57 of the 97 teams that competed in this tournament came from north Florida and for the first time in the 18-year history of this event there was a team from outside of the state, traveling all the way from Maine.

Throughout this spring and summer, other similar travel basketball tournaments (for boys and girls) have been staged, which bodes well for a successful high school basketball season starting this November.

The High School Scene

In many respects, the many travel basketball tournaments being held this summer around the U.S. represent a dress rehearsal, so to speak, for a full return of the sport this coming winter. And high school hoops are ready to rock.

High school remains the most traditional hotbed for basketball in the U.S. Figures released by the NFHS reveal the powerful popularity of the game for both boys and girls.  

  • According to the NFHS, basketball ranks number one for both genders, in terms of the number of schools that sponsor teams.  
  • For boys, there are 18,617 schools with a high school basketball team. For girls, that number is 18,210.  
  • From the perspective of pure participation, high school basketball ranks number three for both boys and girls — 540,769 boys and 399,067 girls.  
  • On a state-by-state basis, the top 10 most popular states for boys’ high school basketball are Texas, California, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Wisconsin.
  • The top 10 most popular states for girls’ high school basketball are Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Minnesota and New Jersey.
  • For as long as the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) has been tracking sports participation patterns, basketball has always been the single most popular team sport in terms of actual participation in the U.S. That trend continues.  
  • In 2020, there were 27.7 million basketball players in the U.S., 14.7 percent more than the 24.2 million basketball players in the U.S. in 2018.  
  • Since 2016, basketball participation has grown by 24.2 percent.  
  • Driving the basketball business is the core participant — those playing hoops 13 or more days a year. According to SFIA, there are 15.8 million of them, a list that includes players on high school and college teams and those that play pro ball as well as the millions who play in local rec leagues, on elementary and middle school teams, on the travel circuit and in regular neighborhood pick-up games. Indeed, basketball has the largest number of core participants among team sports.
  • From a gender perspective, there are still far more males (21.1 million) than females (6.6 million) playing basketball, according to SFIA.  
  • The typical basketball player is male, age 6-17, from a family with a household income of at least $75,000 a year.  
  • The heaviest concentration of basketball players in the U.S. – just more than 20 percent of all players -- lives in the South Atlantic region.
  • Finally, it’s worth noting that more than 30 percent of all basketball players in the U.S. are 35 or older.