Team Specialty Sports

Special Order

Photos: / strickke, clsgraphics

For decades, athletes, coaches, fans and team dealers associated certain times of the year — football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball and softball in the spring. That schedule was a given, but it takes much, much more than that Big Four to keep the lights on these days.

Enter the specialty sports, In the modern team sports world more sports are played throughout the year by athletes who become sport-specific specialists at a young age and maintain that specialization through their playing days. Here is a look at just how team dealers approach those special markets – in this case, soccer, lacrosse, volleyball and track and field – throughout the entire year.

Soccer Boots It

Soccer’s growth and development in the U.S. in the last 30 years has been nothing short of transformational. With every passing year, soccer’s status in the U.S. continues on an upward trajectory, which bodes well for the team dealers and retailers that sell soccer uniforms, balls, cleats, socks, jerseys, shin guards, goals, nets, goalie gloves and various field accessories.

In 2023 Major League Soccer (MLS) has 29 clubs, three of which are in the Canadian cities of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. (Remember back in 1996 when MLS started after the conclusion of the U.S.-hosted men’s World Cup, there were 10 teams.)

Since then, interest in soccer – both the domestically and internationally – in the U.S. has continued to grow. Most recently, for instance, every game of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, held in Australia and New Zealand, was broadcast live in the U.S. on one of the channels operated by Fox. While the U.S. squad suffered an early exit, the U.S. had a presence in the England-Spain final when American Tori Penso was selected as the first-ever American center referee to officiate any World Cup soccer final.  

Here in the U.S. with the MLS, Argentinian legend Lionel Messi made an attention-getting arrival in south Florida when he signed with MLS club Inter Miami CF in July.  Messi confirmed his worth to Inter Miami by scoring nine goals in his first six games with the club and his very presence on Inter Miami’s roster makes the club the hottest ticket in the MLS, which further boosts interest in soccer and jersey sales.

Now, looking forward, in 2026, the men’s FIFA World Cup will return to North America, with the U.S., Canada and Mexico hosting matches, with the majority of those games will be in the U.S.  

On the high school front, boys’ and girls’ high school soccer is played competitively in all 50 states and in all 51 state athletic associations that fall under the banner of the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS).

According to the latest statistics from the NFHS, soccer is a top 10 sport for both genders. In fact, high school soccer ranks fifth for boys with 436,465 participants and third for high school girls with 374,773 participants. And in terms of the number of high schools that sponsor soccer teams, soccer ranks seventh for boys (12,539 schools) and sixth for girls (12,071).

Dealers Sell Soccer Year-Round

Comments from team dealers throughout the U.S. confirm soccer’s steady growth in popularity.

In south and central Florida, where the year-round sunshine allows soccer to be played 365 days a year, three team dealers acknowledge that they never stop selling soccer.

“We have two huge local recreational soccer leagues that buy product for their fall and spring leagues,” says Becky Whipp, co-owner of Dave’s Sporting Goods in Vero Beach, FL. “One league has 800 players and the other one has roughly 250 players. They are buying soccer balls, shin guards, socks, cleats, pop-up goals, permanent goals and, of course, uniforms.”

“Throughout the year, I’m selling soccer uniforms, goals, balls and training aids,” echoes Joel Dunn, a sales rep/account manager for Baker’s Sporting Goods in Jacksonville, FL. “I’m always selling soccer balls because they get beat up so quickly.”

“We sell soccer to local recreational leagues, independent travel teams and roughly 15 area high schools and middle schools,” reports Kevin Licata, manager at Medallion Sporting Goods in Riviera Beach, FL.

Of course, Florida is not the only hotbed of soccer in the U.S.

In New England, soccer sales are ringing the cash register for Brine’s Sporting Goods, which has sales outlets in Sudbury, MA, and Concord, NH.

“Soccer is alive and well in New England and it’s big business for us,” reports owner Laura Brine, who says that interest in soccer in New England is being spurred by middle schools, high schools, local recreational leagues, colleges, universities and elite soccer academies.

In order to meet the demand, Brine sells anything and everything in soccer, though its main items are uniforms, soccer balls, soccer cleats, socks and shin guards. “We sell the entire ‘kit and caboodle’ in soccer,” says Brine.

In Spanish Fork, UT, soccer teams are buying custom uniforms from MVP Sports. “We specialize in custom uniforms and soccer teams are ordering their uniforms from us,” says Heather Groves, a sales rep for MVP Sports.

Lacrosse Sticks Out

Unknown to many people, lacrosse is a sport whose history is unmatched by any other team sport in America. For instance, the sport was first played in 1636 by a group of Huron Indians in Thunder Bay, Ontario, as documented by a French missionary. Fast forward to 1867 and you’ll discover that a number of Canadian lacrosse teams agreed to a uniform code of playing rules.  

Then in 1877, New York University became the first U.S. college to establish a team and in 1879, the U.S. National Amateur Lacrosse Association was founded.  In 1904, lacrosse was an Olympic sport and in the final, a Canadian team defeated a U.S. squad for the gold medal.  Sadly, lacrosse was dropped as an Olympic sport following the 1908 Summer Olympics.  

At the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, lacrosse returned as an exhibition sport. Since then, the sport has continued to grow in spurts and is now poised for greater growth in the U.S. and, internationally, for that matter, which makes the sport a more appealing sales category for team dealers.

With all that history, one would think that lacrosse would be the most popular team sport in North America, but that’s not the case, at least for the moment.  Thankfully, the sport is expanding its presence on an annual basis throughout the U.S. and is becoming more and more popular in areas outside of the Eastern Seaboard.

High school lacrosse attracts boys and girls from just more than half of the 51 NFHS state associations. According to the latest statistics from the NFHS, 27 state associations sponsor girls’ lacrosse and 26 sponsor boys’ programs. From the perspective of overall participation, girls’ high school lacrosse has 96,972 participants from 3028 high schools and lacrosse is the tenth most popular high school sport for girls. On the other side, there are 107,865 boys playing high school lacrosse from 3077 schools.

In many respects, girls’ high school lacrosse is a different sport than boys high school lacrosse.

“High school girls’ lacrosse continues to be an evolving sport, both in its rapid growth over the last several years and in the rules that have created an environment for a faster, more fluid pace of play,” explains Lindsey Atkinson, director of sport for the NFHS. “From a rules-writing perspective, the challenge has been and will continue to be ensuring the rules are appropriate for the wide range of play created by the growth of the game from well-established programs in states with a strong history in the sport to newer programs in states adding the sport for the first time.”

Recently, the NFHS Girls Lacrosse Rules Committee passed a few rules related to lacrosse equipment, which should get the attention of manufacturers and team dealers.  

These new rules include defining goalkeeper thigh padding as shorts or pants with integrated protective padding, a reorganization of the mouth protector rule that eliminates the restrictions related to color and graphics, and allowing field players to wear compression shirts that meet the NOCASAE ND200 lacrosse standard under the uniform, according to Atkinson.  

One change was made to the uniform rule that establishes that one school-related or player-identifying name, such as a school’s name, nickname, logo, mascot and/or team member’s name, will be allowed on the team jersey above the uniform beginning in 2027.

Dealers Love the Game

Expanding beyond its traditional regional roots, the lacrosse business has become stronger for many team dealers around the U.S.

For PJ’s Soccer/Lacrosse in Bethesda, MD, lacrosse is “rocking and rolling,” according to store manager Jack Maloney, who gladly reports that there are no longer any supply issues. In addition to team uniforms, PJ’s Soccer/Lacrosse is selling lacrosse heads, shafts, protective gear, balls and socks to area men’s, women’s and youth lacrosse teams.

For more than 20 years, Brine’s Sporting Goods  has been stocking and selling lacrosse gear, uniforms and accessories. “We sell uniforms, balls and goalie accessories,” says Laura Brine. “For us, sales of sticks are an individual purchase. And, I’d sell lacrosse footwear if I could get it.”

In Florida, where lacrosse continues to expand on an annual basis, Jacksonville-based Baker’s Sporting Goods has hired lacrosse coaches to teach its sales reps how to communicate and sell to lacrosse teams and coaches.

“To properly sell lacrosse, it’s important for sales reps like myself to fully understand the sport’s lingo and terminology,” says Joel Dunn. “My lacrosse sales, which include uniforms, gloves and helmets, are on the upswing.”

In Utah, lacrosse has been approved as an officially sanctioned sport at the high school level, which is great news for team dealers such as MVP Sports. “We are excited about high school lacrosse coming to Utah,” says Heather Groves.


Volleyball's Net Effect

Girls’ high school volleyball is played competitively in all 50 states and in all 51 NFHS state associations. According to the latest statistics from the NFHS, volleyball is a top-10 sport for girls and it is second with 454,153 participants. In terms of participating schools, girls’ volleyball ranks third with 16,532 high schools that currently sponsor a varsity volleyball team.

“High school volleyball is in a unique position as a thriving girls’ sport offered in all our member state associations and a growing or emerging boys’ sport in approximately half of our member associations,” says Lindsey Atkinson, director of sports of the NFHS. “Volleyball is the number-one traditional team sport played in high schools around the country for girls, while boys’ programs continue to pop up in all regions of the country. The game is in a really good place.”

Recent changes to high school volleyball rules by the NFHS Volleyball Rules Committee have impacted what suppliers can manufacture and what team dealers and retailers are allowed to sell.

“Over the last three years, the NFHS Volleyball Rules Committee has addressed rules that allow for greater religious, cultural and individual expression by the student-athletes while maintaining a focus on risk minimization,” explains Atkinson. In 2023, the NFHS relaxed the rules around jewelry and beginning with the 2023-24 season student-athletes may wear small stud or post jewelry above the chin.

The rules committee also made the decision to eliminate the use of uniform numbers with a leading zero (01, 02, 03, etc.), beginning in the 2028-29 school year. In addition, the rule change passed in 2019 that requires the body of the uniform number to contrast from the uniform regardless of trim goes into effect this season.

Many female volleyball players regularly transition from club volleyball to high school volleyball and back to club. As a result, the sport is kept front and center for team dealers.

For Al’s Sporting Goods, in Wilmington, DE, the high school volleyball business has always been steady, but the club business has now superseded the high school volleyball business.

“Overall, both club and high school volleyball teams are buying uniforms, volleyballs and knee pads,” says owner Bob Hart, while shoes for volleyball are an individual purchase through his retail store and they sell volleyball nets to high school programs.

In southern Indiana, volleyball is a major sport for Kratz Sporting Goods, based in Clarksville, and, according to owner Allen Krebs, they sell as much to travel volleyball clubs as they do to high school teams.  

And while there are more high school volleyball players than club volleyball players, the clubs spend more money per capita.

“Travel volleyball clubs buy new uniforms, whereas a high school team will only buy a new set of uniforms every three or four years,” says Krebs. “Every year, in addition to uniforms, travel clubs are buying new warm-ups, volleyballs, practice T-shirts, knee pads and socks, while schools are regularly buying ball carts, nets and entire volleyball systems.”

Unlike many other dealers, Krebs also sells a fair number of volleyball shoes because it’s easier to make a buying decision on volleyball shoes than shoes for other sports. “There are simply fewer brands to choose from in terms of volleyball shoes and everybody wants a white shoe,” Krebs adds.

The purchasing seasons for club and high school volleyball are different, which makes it possible to deliver product to both in a timely manner.

“The clubs are buying from December 1 to February 1 and the high schools are buying from July 1 to August 15,” Krebs explains. “Of course, if a team wants to place an order early, that’s fine with us.”

As far as the supply chain issues that have plagued the sporting goods industry in recent years, Krebs is delighted to report that progress is being made in that area. “It is certainly getting better,” says Krebs. “There are a lot fewer items with supply chain issues than there were in the past.”

In Columbia, MO, the volleyball business for Red Weir Athletic Supplies is solid, but not spectacular.

“We sell volleyball to more club volleyball teams than high school teams,” says owner Mike Weir, who sells volleyballs, uniforms, sweatshirts, T-shirts, ball carts and scorebooks, but no footwear.

In Fort Worth, TX, high school volleyball continues to be “great business” for Carey’s Sporting Goods. “We stay focused on what we do best, which is selling to high schools,” says owner Dan Carey. “We sell everything in volleyball to schools.”

One of the positive aspects of the volleyball business is that the travel tournaments – which host many teams in expansive, indoor, multi-court facilities – are back to the pre-COVID levels of participation.

“The pandemic has played out and participation in travel volleyball tournaments are back to normal around the U.S.,” reports Sam Skelton, indoor chair for the Florida Region of USA Volleyball.

Photo: FatCamera, FS-Stock

Tracking Track and Field

High school track and field attracts boys and girls from all 50 states and all 51 NFHS state associations, making it a top-tier sport in America’s schools. In fact, in terms of overall participation track and field is the number-one high school sport for girls with 456,697 participants and second with 17,028 high schools sponsoring a team. For the boys, track and field is the second-most popular high school sport in terms of participation (569,262) and the number of sponsoring schools (17,070).  

As a category for team dealers, there are many different items.

“Selling track and field is like selling football since there are so any different items that a program needs,” says Jake Koch, president of Iowa Sports Supply in Cedar Falls, IA, who sells the sport to high schools and middle schools.

According to Koch, there are some items that are not purchased very often because they have such a long shelf life for track and field programs — shot puts, discus, javelins, hurdles, pole vault poles, starting blocks and mats for the high jump and pole vault. Some items such as singlets and spikes are purchased on an annual basis.

According to Doc Claussen, manager of Coaches Corner in Terre Haute, IN, track and field was more profitable in the past, since now many items are purchased by schools through digital retail outlets.

“We have lost a great deal of track and field business to online sales outlets,” he says, nevertheless they do sell singlets, shorts, starting blocks and hurdles.