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SFIA recently returned from the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Convention in Nashville, TN, which took place last Thursday and Friday. The show and SFIA’s Baseball/Softball Council Meeting were both a huge success!

The event had a lot of buzz and good energy throughout. There was constant high foot traffic on the show floor, and most exhibitors said the conversations were great — all of which are good signs for the baseball business. This sentiment was echoed in our SFIA Baseball/Softball Council Meeting, held on January 3rd, where we had a record 60+ members in attendance. The interest and enthusiasm in the baseball industry is booming right now, and we couldn’t be more excited.

However, throughout the discussions held in our council meeting, it was clear that the focus of the industry has drastically shifted over the years. Recently, there have been so many issues regarding standards and compliance around new testing processes, and that has become our manufacturers’ and retailers’ gravest concern. The rule makers and governing bodies are more active than ever before, and this has made the sporting goods business more complicated and costly, as manufacturers struggle to keep up with new and changing regulations. As our companies’ top priority is to remain compliant with all of these standards, SFIA has invested more time into creating new protocols and relationships with all organizations involved. Now that we are in a position to hear all different points of view, there is a concerted effort to work with those responsible for making the rules, so we can fulfill the needs of both sides, while making it most cost effective. Now, the biggest challenges for companies is to avoid as many compliance-related obstacles as possible, in order to manage costs.

While sometimes compliance and standards seem to be working against their bottom line, baseball participation is healthy. Major League Baseball’s Play Ball campaign and P.E. programs in schools that incorporate baseball have been very successful. There are many more kids that have had at least a bit of a baseball experience. While we see that as a huge positive, there is still work to be done. We want kids to find opportunities to participate in local leagues, games at the park and other variations that are low-pressure and fun. American youth seem to be struggling with the gap between “opting out altogether” and “full-commitment travel leagues.” It is the responsibility of the baseball community to take that initial interest and turn it into ongoing opportunities to play. We must recognize that participation does not have to mean a travel team or year-round play. We want local teams. We want opportunities to get to know the game. We want kids and families to get into the baseball cadence. In order to do this, we must acknowledge and take advantage of the vast amount of opportunity that exists between non-participation and travel teams.

The baseball industry, along with every other sport, thrives on growing participation, and we believe in the baseball community’s commitment to creating and encouraging more playing opportunities. In a room of 60+ baseball enthusiasts, we are confident in their ability to turn this excitement and passion into proactive efforts to share the game with America’s youth.

We are also proud to announce that 29 SFIA members were exhibiting at the 2020 show. Members include: Champro, USSSA, All-Star Sporting Goods, Diamond Kinetics, Mizuno, Outdoor Cap, SanMar, SCORE, AXE Bat, Franklin Sports, Schutt Sports, adidas, USA Baseball, TRUE Temper Sports, Champion, BSN Sports, Easton, Marucci, New Balance, Wilson, Markwort Sporting Goods, Augusta Sports, G-Form, Gamemaster Athletics, Blast Motion, Rawlings, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Rapsodo and Diamond Sports.

It was great to see members on the show floor, displaying and demonstrating their products. We also had great conversations, both with members and non-members alike, discussing current opportunities and challenges the industry is facing. First and foremost, one of the biggest shared concerns among exhibitors was tariffs. The trade war and pending US-China trade agreement seems to have everyone a little anxious, as most exhibitors were at least somewhat affected by the tariffs.

One of the biggest trends was technology. Technology is now heavily incorporated into many aspects of baseball, including practice tools, in-game capabilities, apparel and equipment. Multiple exhibitors referenced how technology was advancing the game and how cutting-edge these advancements truly are to the industry. One technology-based company, Rapsodo, seemed to generate extra buzz with their ability to improve players’ batting and pitching abilities through sensors and instant feedback delivered via your smartphone. Rapsodo hosted a demonstration at the show, allowing the audience to experience their technology.

Overall, the baseball business is doing well. Many attendees noted that the foot traffic was the best they had ever seen. ABCA reported 7,100+ attendees and 360 exhibitors! We can’t wait for the 2021 ABCA Convention, which will be held in Washington, DC at National Harbor.

Check out the SFIA members exhibiting at the show:

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SFIA is the leading global trade association in the sports & fitness industry. SFIA is the #1 source for sport & fitness research. More info at www.sfia.org.

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