The Team Dealer’s Home-Field Advantage

Getting back to business opens up a host of opportunities for independent dealers.

One thing is certain in these uncertain times — business will never be conducted as it used to be, even a few months ago. (Remember the “good old days” when a meeting with the AD meant stopping by the office with a cup of coffee and a pencil ready for ordering!)

Getting past the fact that in many cases we don’t even know yet how many schools will be open for classes, much less sports, it is imperative for team dealers to play to their strengths to navigate these uncharted waters. That means maintaining regular contact with coaches and administrators to understand how your schools will operate and what sports will (hopefully) be played.  

Keep in mind that as an independent team dealer you have that all-important home-field advantage. Being local and known in your community gives you the ultimate opportunity to have the upper hand. Being small and nimble gives you the ability of quick response based on information learn “on the street.”

You have the ability to be flexible with any unusual or last-minute request because you don’t have to call someone else and get permission. A big part of the value you have with your schools is that as an independent team dealer from the neighborhood you can make those decisions on the spot and also turn an order faster than others with far-away headquarters and distribution centers.

You also have the ability to hand deliver any of those items that are in your inventory or goods you decorate yourself. National networks, for all their advantages in size and resources, simply can’t match that. They can’t enter the order, have it shipped from a distant warehouse and get it to a school nearly as fast as you can. Speed counts in times like these.

Staying in Touch

Remaining in contact with coaches as much as possible over the last few months may have provided you with insight as to the fall sports possibilities. Unfortunately, this hasn’t always been easy, even for the local guys.

If your schools remain closed through mid-summer, go ahead and use the school’s website for staff contact info to acquire e-mail addresses and send notes with questions or requests for appointments. Or leave a message on their school phone line if it is listed. (Hopefully any dealer with good relationships will have the cell number of key contacts at the schools for a quick call or, increasingly these days, an even quicker text.)

If a coach is a walk-on and does not have a school e-mail address or phone, use Linkedin or other social media to send out messages requesting a contact opportunity. The other obvious means is, of course, refer to past orders and search for the contact info of those who placed orders for the school in the past. That person may not be a coach, but may have the contact info of the coach whom you would like to reach.

(And if all else fails, stop by the practice field. As a local dealer you should know where that is.)

Even though some schools are just about to open in many parts of the country and others have put in place plans to reopen in some manner, there remain a lot of unanswered questions as this BTS season starts.  

• Will there be competitive sports this fall at your schools?

• If so, which sports will be active?

• Will the traditional fall sports start later or be moved to a later season?

• Will there be a full schedule of games?

• Will there be fans in the stands?

• Will the number of players be the same as in the past or will team sizes be reduced?

• Will there even be sub-varsity teams as many fringe players opt not to participate this year?

• What will practices be like?

• What equipment/uniforms will be needed for the sports that will field teams?

• When will those teams be able to confidently place those uniform and equipment orders and when do they want delivery? And, most importantly, when will you get paid?

The most important of the questions, of course, is the first one. By now you should already know if football or soccer will occur as scheduled and if cross-country teams will run, since practices may have already begun. The answer concerning the other fall sports will come from administrative staff, ADs or, in some cases, the coaches themselves. As mentioned earlier, it is vital to remain in contact with all of these levels of decision-makers.

Personal visits remain the best means tohat the information you need and at some point outsiders will be allowed back into a school to visit. But remember when sending your roadmen to a school now it is important to be reminded to respect the social distancing guidelines the schools have put in place.    

It is smart also to keep meetings as brief as possible and involve as few individuals as are necessary.

Sales Tip: It is a very good idea to have a resource for masks or face coverings in school colors or even logos — and then wear one to the school when having those meetings. You never know, perhaps school administrators would like to make something like that available to the staff or even the entire student body. It helps to promote school spirit with a very practical item.

Getting Ready for the Rush

Even if you are great at keeping in touch, your own BTS efforts can all be for naught if you and your company can’t fill those orders when they do suddenly appear.

In other words: Do you have inventory now? Are you working with vendors who can supplement your inventory and ship to you within 24 hours? There is no doubt teams will be ordering late. Be their resource and savior this year and you become the go-to guy when the new normal returns.

Of course, the downside to investing in this inventory is, What happens to all of it if sports are not played? What do you do with that inventory that you currently own and planned to turn this season?  

It is here that your relationship with your vendors becomes extremely important. Your vendors don’t want to lose you. You are too important to them. You are their best resource. You have great value.  

While understandably somewhat reluctant, your vendors will need to find a solution that will help you and be acceptable to them. That could include some return privileges of selected excess inventory. Perhaps they will require payment, but be willing to provide additional discounts in order encourage the payment. They could also consider providing extended terms on the due invoices.

If you don’t reach out and ask for the assistance, they will presume you are prepared to absorb the full responsibility. Be proactive about this important facet of your business.

This is a time when we all need to help each other. No one expected what occurred over the last six months and, as a result, absolutely no one – large and small team dealers, schools or vendors – were prepared for this.

The best any of us can do is learn what we don’t know and act quickly on it. What we do now will help us all be better prepared for the next season and how to handle it. We truly don’t know what the future holds.  What we do know is that no business can handle it better and more effectively than independent team dealers.

How Risky Are Sports?

Will there by school sports in the fall? That’s the multi-million dollar question for team dealers and vendors and the answer will go a long way to determining whether they pass or fail this school year. Most districts around the country seem to be making plans to return to school in August and September and, along with that, hopefully some sort of fall sports schedule.

The success or failure of these efforts this school year will depend, of course, on how the world of high school sports reacts to a return to play amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. And while there are certainly risks in common with all activities, not all sports are equal. Each has varying levels of risks and a recent very informative article in The Oregonian/OregonLive rated team sports as lower, medium or higher risk.

Factors that were considered in the safety of the sport include contact versus non-contact, individual versus team sport and indoor versus outdoor. Generally, non-contact is safer than contact, individual is safer than team and outdoor is safer than indoor.

Higher Risk

Basketball: Basketball is rated as the highest risk sport because it combines all the possible factors that could lead to increased risk — it is played indoors during the winter and the closed environment could lead to a higher risk of the virus spreading compared with outside.  

Football: Like basketball, football involves prolonged close contact, especially at the line of scrimmage. But the amount of contact at any position provides large risks.

Wrestling: Wrestling requires contact and the athletes have the potential to touch the other’s face, which has clear high risk. There isn’t much protective equipment to wear either.

Medium Risk

Ice Hockey/Field Hockey: More protective equipment such as large gloves are worn in ice hockey, but there is not sufficient face covering. Field hockey doesn’t have masks at all. If players can find a way to have more protective face coverings, the sports would be slightly safer.

Soccer: Soccer is far safer than basketball because contact happens for a shorter period of time, the field is larger and it is generally played outside.

Lacrosse: Like hockey, lacrosse has helmets and at all levels of men’s lacrosse those cover the whole face. Women’s lacrosse only has eye coverings. Lacrosse is played outside, which creates a slightly lower risk than indoor sports.

Lower Risk

Baseball/Softball: It’s a sport where physical distancing is a natural part of the game. Catchers have the highest risk, since they will be close to the batter and umpire.

Track & Field/Cross-Country: Distancing is easier with running. Lanes can be closed between runners to allow more space between them. But there is no contact, which lowers the risk.

Volleyball: Volleyball can be played spaced out. During the run of play, athletes don’t typically come close to one another. The starting positions have some space between them.

About the author:

Looking for a fresh viewpoint on the team business in these challenging times, Team Insight reached out to industry veteran Jim Hoff for his thoughts on where the team business is today and what it needs to do to get back to business in a COVID-19 world. Hoff has been a sporting good salesperson, manager and executive for more than 45 years. He has worked in retail and manufacturing as well as with Spalding, Huffy, DP, Bollinger, Avia, Asics and BSN Sports. He now operates JMH Consulting teaching best business practices for business operation, sales and marketing. He can be reached at 949-697-6436;

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