The Coronavirus Challenge

Team Insight is here as a resource for the team sports business to deal with this health and business crisis.

Even in this important annual Girls’ and Women’s Sports Issue, where every article focuses on some aspect of women’s sports, I feel compelled to connect with our readers around the country who, like everyone in America, are adjusting to a new normal as the impact of the coronavirus hits home both professionally and personally.

As we navigate through the unprecedented impacts of the COVID-19 virus, we are, as always, opening our pages and our resources up to you. Team dealers are impacted greatly by the cancellation of pro, college and, most importantly, youth sports in America and we are feeling your pain.

We can be your way to communicate with your vendors and customers – through the pages of Team Insight and in our bi-weekly TeamInsightExtra newsletter. Feel free to let us know what you’re doing to protect yourselves and your businesses, what you’d like to be reading more of and what kind of coverage will help you the most, and what we can be doing to keep our community connected and supported. You can write me directly at or give me a call at 201-396-7005.

It’s been a chaotic and unnerving time for everyone, and I know a lot of us are worried — about our health, our families, our businesses, our customers. The speed at which the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded has seemed to accelerate daily, and I know a lot of you have revised your plans on an hourly basis. Heck, there’s a very good chance this editorial will be obsolete by the time you read it — things are moving that fast.

We still don’t know what the longer-term impacts of this crisis will be, and I know from the last few days that I don’t know enough to guess. So in the meantime, I want to send our thoughts out to all of the team dealers, vendors and reps I’ve been talking to, following on social media and observing as they rise to this challenge. You guys impress me and, not to sound too emotional, we will all be able to get through this together.

There will certainly be this new normal on the other side of this crisis and some businesses will not be around to enjoy it. Others will be vastly different than what they were at the beginning of 2020. The one thing that is certain is that things will never be the same again — in our neighborhoods, around the country and, yes, even in our little world of team sports.

I’ve been inspired by the creative things I’ve seen dealers around the country doing – and how their vendors seem so far to be working with, not against, their dealer partners – to keep serving their customers while protecting their employees and community. That’s what our very personal business is all about.

Be safe.

— Michael Jacobsen

Dealing With A 'New Normal'

The timing of the worst (so far) of the coronavirus crisis for the team business – the cancellation of pro leagues, followed by similar shutdowns of school, club and recreation programs – came after most spring sports orders were already placed and had been shipped in many parts of the country. Despite this, the ramifications are ranging from the obvious – cancelled meetings, closed offices, slower cash flow – to the more immeasurable, including how people were reacting to being denied their previously basic right to, well, be with other people … in this case, to play and watch sports.

“At this point all we can do is work to keep our employees safe and hope for better times sooner than later,” Rhett Johnson, owner of Johnson-Lambe, Raleigh, NC, says.

Beyond that, team dealers across America are struggling with the basics of running a business and filling orders that they may or may not get paid for.

Greg Miller, president of Universal Athletic, Bozeman, MT, which was recently acquired by Trivest Partners, says the impact depends a lot on the part of the country. “What we have seen is somewhat dependent on the region,” he points out. For example, in Arizona Universal had delivered most of its orders and the spring sports season started but was then suspended as the crisis worsened.

Meanwhile, in Universal’s northern regions, spring sports were on the cusp of beginning, creating another set of challenges around order cancelations and refusal of orders in some cases.

“Either way there is an immediate impact regardless of the region,” he says. “We need to be mindful of the impact on next year as teams may have unused goods, like baseballs and softballs for example, that will have an impact clear into next season.”

Another problem: “I am concerned about cash flow along with the effect on the supply chain,” Miller adds.

Team sports practices were scheduled to start in upstate New York just as the shutdown took effect and Justin Miller, head of operations at Scholastic Sports Sales, Manilus, NY, says the fact that they never even started makes for an interesting situation.

On one hand, he says, most spring sports orders were in and many delivered and there had not been any cases of schools cancelling orders already placed. The hit to business will come with the online team sports stores, which were ready to open that week but immediately were mostly put on hold.

“Most of our customers are schools and we have school-issued purchase orders, so that has not been a concern,” Miller says. “We haven’t seen schools cancel orders, but we expect to see residual orders fall in team stores.”

And those dozens of baseballs and softballs they have on hand for the 2020 season? “They’re not going to go bad, although we aren’t looking forward to holding that inventory for a year,” Miller says.

With a 1200-plus network of sales pros around the country, BSN Sports is perhaps in the best position of anyone to weather the current coronavirus storm while dealing with cancelled and/or delayed orders from schools and other programs.

“Our sales pros are … reaching out, communicating with and ensuring their customers have what they need to manage through the uncertainty,” reports BSN Sports president and COO Terry Babilla.

“In general, the short-term dislocation will not impact our ability to ramp up quickly and effectively when things do return to a normal – or semi-normal – state,” he says. “The resilience of our platform, operational strength and business continuity planning will ensure our customers don’t skip a beat when that time does come.”

What happens next is certainly very much on the minds of dealers and reps as they navigate these uncharted waters with, hopefully, a return someday soon to that “semi-normal” state.

“Some of this may affect a school’s ability to pay for purchases made for spring sports since there are no gate receipts,” points out Don Leonard, owner of the Crown Sports Sales, Winston-Salem, NC, rep group.

Chuck Overman, of Overman & Associates independent sales reps, says that he senses a focus on how to proceed once the worst is over.

“Confidence is showing that the business will be back,” he says. “There is no one answer. Everything is on-the-job training. Folks are leaning into what is proving to be more than a tempest in a teapot.”

Oh, and Overman points out, “commissioned dealer reps and vendor reps don’t get paid if the business is on hiatus.”

For Ron Stein, of Frank’s Sport Shop in The Bronx, NY,  the key future concern is how his vendors will react to their own inventory and cash flow problems and how they will work with their team dealer clients.

“It will be a question of how well the vendors will work with their dealers,” he says, believing that the smaller dealers may get left out in the cold as the vendors decide who to partner with post-crisis.

“To me it will depend on how will the vendors work with us,” Stein says. “I know that those who work with me I’ll remember going forward. They need to do the right thing.”

No one knows exactly what that right thing is at this point, so like every other industry the team business will continue to hunker down, deal with the immediate challenges of cancelled orders and slower payments and look forward to brighter days ahead.

“We are letting customers know directly that, yes, these are extraordinary times,” BSN Sports’ Babilla says. “So we are doubling-down on ensuring customers know we care about them and their program. The rest will take care of itself when this crisis passes.”

View the full print issue here.