Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame Elects Three Innovators
The recently announced three inductees in the Class of 2023 of the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame all share an innovative spirit in different segments of the industry.
James Clifford Keen of Cliff Keen Athletic, Jeff Lynn of Dunham’s Sports and Kent McKeaigg of OrderMyGear will join 178 retailers, team dealers, manufacturers and industry influencers who have been honored with induction into the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame since it was established by the National Sporting Goods Association in 1955. The selections of Keen, Lynn and McKeaigg were made by the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame Committee at its annual meeting in May.
“We have an excellent group of inductees as the Class of 2023 who brought innovation to the industry in a variety of ways,” says Pat Donnelley, Chairman of the NSGA Board of Directors. “It is a tremendous thrill to welcome them to the Hall of Fame and to see them honored for their accomplishments.”
The Hall of Fame dinner and induction ceremony will be held May 23, 2023 at the W Nashville in Nashville, Tennessee, the site of the 2023 NSGA Management Conference & Team Dealer Summit. Wilson “Bill” Hunt of Champro, from the Class of 2022, will also be inducted with the 2023 group. Details on attending this event will be announced soon.
James Clifford Keen
The Keen name and its products are synonymous with wrestling throughout the world. The name will double in visibility in the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame with the induction of James Clifford Keen in the Class of 2023. He will join his father, Cliff Keen, who was a Class of 2012 inductee. They were instrumental in the growth of Cliff Keen Athletic in the last 64 years into the leading brand in amateur wrestling products.
Jim Keen positively impacted wrestling in many ways — as a competitor at the University of Michigan under his father; as an inventor of wrestling equipment; as co-founder and CEO of Cliff Keen Athletic; as a tournament sponsor; and as a legislative liaison. Jim was involved with USA Wrestling, advocated on behalf of the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) and served as chairman of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame from 2004-2013.
Following Cliff Keen’s wrestling ear guard patent in 1958-59, Jim and Cliff started the company as “Cliff Keen Wrestling Products, Inc.” in the family’s basement. Orders started pouring in once the ear guards became required and Jim Keen decided he wanted to grow the family business. Once he graduated from Michigan in the mid-1960s with a Business degree, Jim set his sights on taking Cliff Keen Wrestling products to the next level.
By 1970, Jim expanded the product offering to include uniforms and tights, warm-up suits and other protective products such as knee pads. By the early 1980s, Jim established Cliff Keen Athletic as the predominant brand in amateur wrestling. Jim attended sporting goods industry shows such as NSGA’s to spearhead efforts in channel distribution and he rapidly grew Cliff Keen Athletic’s sales.
Cliff Keen Athletic’s product offering today is in large part a reflection of Jim Keen’s innovative efforts in continuously advancing wrestling products. Using innovative technologies and materials, Jim’s pursuit of better protection, comfort and style for wrestlers have been realized with patents on file for all three of Cliff Keen’s current best-selling headgear: The Tornado®, The Fusion® and The Signature™ Headgear. Jim also patented work on certain components used in Cliff Keen wrestling ear guards and he was able to design and contribute to several other products, including wrestling kneepads under the Cliff Keen brand, which have become mainstays on the mats.
When Jeff Lynn took over management of Dunham’s Sports in 1984, the company only had eight stores in two states and operated in one of the most competitive regions in the country for sporting goods. Rather than shying away from this challenge, Jeff found ways to out-maneuver his much larger competitors. He created a highly differentiated business model built on following non-traditional retail strategies. Nearly four decades and two leveraged buyouts later Dunham’s continues to grow and thrive in a landscape riddled with the casualties of former sporting goods retailers.
Dunham’s is now a financially strong, still privately held, full-line sporting goods chain with 245 stores in 24 states and over $1 billion in revenue. Lynn’s vision and leadership is a tremendous success story as he recognized early that most sporting goods chains focused on major markets, leaving an opportunity in the smaller secondary and tertiary markets. However, finding success in smaller retail areas took a lot of creativity. Dunham’s has created a long list of proprietary operating systems and real estate strategies that have allowed it to be successful in markets where so many others have struggled to operate.
Jeff Lynn has always been a big believer in the Sporting Goods industry. While many large chains have pulled back, Jeff has prioritized attendance at major trade shows and participation in industry associations such as Nation’s Best Sports (NBS) and National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA). He is also most proud of the way Dunham’s has become a key part of the communities in which it operates.
Kent McKeaigg, the founder and board member of OrderMyGear (OMG), and the founder and owner of Team Gear Flow, has modernized the way sporting goods and apparel are sold and fulfilled. McKeaigg revolutionized the sporting goods industry by developing the OMG eCommerce platform, which simplifies the sporting goods and apparel ordering process for coaches and players, heightening team dealer success and opening doors for new opportunities.
This innovative technology was created after seeing his father Ronnie, a team dealer in Oklahoma, struggle to organize paper order forms for high school teams. For team dealers, sorting orders, checking payments and fulfilling orders was a mundane, time-consuming and error-prone process. For coaches, it was a hassle to wrangle paper order forms, remind players to bring payments to practice and communicate with the parents.
McKeaigg saw a need in the industry and he set out to fix it. What started as a two-person operation has grown to a 100-plus employee company, supporting more than 3,000 dealers and decorators, winning over 35 national awards and making more than $22 million in revenue. With a commitment to building strong relationships in the sports industry, McKeaigg has also collaborated with powerhouse brands, like Under Armour, adidas, Augusta, and more, to offer a robust selection of high-quality products on the OMG platform. This has enabled industry brands and partners the opportunity to service end consumers in a modern, impactful way, which was critical during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.