Mike Thompson
Mike Thompson and his wife, Colleen.
One of the most respected veterans in the team sports industry, Mike Thompson will be inducted into the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame during the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) Leadership Conference in Phoenix, AZ, on May 22. Team Insight caught up with Thompson as he prepared for his induction into the Class of 2024 to find out his feelings about this honor for him and Rawlings, how the world of team sports has changed in his tenure and where he goes from here.

Let’s start with this: What does your Hall of Fame induction mean to you personally?

It is something I never expected or even thought much about. In fact, I was really surprised and very excited when I received the call. It is really hard for me to think about “me” as an individual joining the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame when there are so many people along the way that gave me an opportunity, mentored me and provided guidance that helped shape my career.

How about to Rawlings as a company?

I will be the third person in the 137-year history of Rawlings to be inducted into the HOF. Harry Latina was the first in 1972. He was responsible for putting Rawlings on the map in the baseball glove category and he designed gloves for HOFers such as Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial and Reggie Jackson. He really set the industry standard for glove design. Claude Carr was inducted in 1982. He was a former president who was responsible for transforming Rawlings from a small regional manufacturer to one of the pillars in sports.

Rawlings deserves some kudos for that trio.

I personally think there are several other Rawlings individuals who had incredible careers and are worthy of a HOF induction.  

What has been your role at Rawlings?

My career with Rawlings began May 21, 1984, as a sales rep in Southern California. Five years later I was promoted to regional sales manager responsible for the 13 western states. In 1994 I accepted the opportunity as VP-sales and moved my family to St. Louis. I have held numerous positions since, including my current role as the chief marketing officer overseeing our pro baseball activity, brand marketing, sports marketing, digital marketing and all things in between.

You have seen it all first hand, so how have you seen the team sports business – and Rawlings – change over that time?

First and foremost, and not to state the obvious, but there is simply the lack of powerhouse team dealers as compared to a few years ago.

We certainly know that! How have things changed in particular?

Back in the day, every small, medium and large city had reputable team dealers where athletes could purchase high-end performance product. Those dealers would also represent your brand in schools and leagues. As the team dealer base was shrinking, brands needed to shift strategy and find a way to reconnect directly with the athlete, the school and the leagues in order to keep their brand relevant. Consequently, there is now a balancing act between the existing team dealer base and brands that sell direct.  

What else has changed?

We are also seeing an escalation in sponsorship at all levels of sports — from travel ball teams to high schools and colleges, brands are looking to be associated with teams and players who have the ability to influence the market. Brands will also continue to lean into the digital world by selling products via their own website while driving consumer demand through the various social platforms.  

What’s a typical day like as chief marketing officer?

My typical day never lacks for action. Given all the various marketing activities under my umbrella there is plenty to do and always room for improving and growing the business. It could be working on a new product launch, activating a promotion, working with one of our partners such as MLB, signing a new player to an endorsement deal or working with our digital team. The beauty is it is always fluid and ever-changing and that’s what keeps me engaged.

What are your favorite parts of your job?

My team is made up of some very competitive young people and that keeps me on my toes. Seeing a project succeed and being part of a team that has passion and wants to win every day is always gratifying. I also cherish my longstanding relationships with our strategic partners such as MLB, MLB teams, players, agents, coaches and the various youth organizations throughout.  

Any perks to the job?

Along the way there are always a few events to attend, such as the MLB All Star game, the World Series, CWS and Rawlings Gold Glove Award events that add to the fringe benefits of the job.

Tell us about your sports memorabilia collection we heard about?

After being with Rawlings 40 years I do have an extensive sports memorabilia collection that honestly people get a bigger kick out of it than I do. I have accumulated lots of interesting items over the years, not because I geek out on collecting items but rather because it just sort of evolved and I kept it going.

Rawlings has some good partnerships with Major League Baseball. Does that mean you get good seats at Cardinals games?

Rawlings has had great season tickets long before I joined the company and will have them long after I am gone — one of the true perks of the job!

Any favorite players you have had the opportunity to work with over the years?

There have been many. The Rawlings brand has enabled me to establish long-lasting friendships. Some of the retired players include Tommy Lasorda (RIP), who I considered one of my mentors; Brooks Robinson (RIP), who might have been the nicest guy in baseball; Johnny Bench, Cal Ripken, Jr., Ozzie Smith, Andre Dawson and Steve Garvey, to name a few. As for current players,  I am a big fan of Nolan Arenado of the Cardinals and Francisco Lindor of the Mets.

Any message you want to send to the team sporting goods industry on the eve of your induction into the Hall of Fame?

After nearly 50 years in the sporting goods industry, I can honestly say I would not change a thing. I have been surrounded by wonderful people I enjoy being around and people I genuinely care for. My career in this industry has given my family much and I am lucky to have been associated with such an iconic brand like Rawlings. I am very thankful and honored to be a part of this incredible industry.

Finally, what’s the future hold for Mike Thompson — near-term and long-term?

Near-term I still have gas in the tank and I am as competitive as I have always been. At some point it will end and then I will quietly ride into the sunset with my wife, Colleen, to whom I’ve been married to for 37 years.