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Sporting Goods Co. Takes on Tech Support Role for Youth Leagues

Ed Plummer

Inside a 16,000-square-foot space in downtown San Diego, members of a national all-star team are vying for the future of sporting goods retailing.

Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc.’s new Team Sports HQ West Coast Technology and Support Center at 225 Broadway is adding developers, database administrators and project managers to make life easier for the millions of coaches and volunteers considered key to reaching, serving and understanding the sports market.

The new facility houses the former Affinity Sports, a San Diego sports management company Dick’s acquired in summer 2016.

Its digital platform offers teams a wide array of services, including online registration, websites, fan wear, custom uniforms and access to sponsorships.

Team Sports HQ’s services are free; in at least some cases the platform charges a small fee on credit-card transactions.

Success at the West Coast headquarters — together with Team Sports HQ locations in Atlanta, New York and Pittsburgh — may be crucial for the nearly 70-year-old Pennsylvania-based chain with more than 690 stores nationwide.

Dick’s is battling strong competition from internet retail giant Amazon and specialty retailers such as REI. At the same time, suppliers such as Nike are investing in direct-to-consumer approaches. In July, Dick’s resorted to a price- matching policy giving it better footing against competitors such as Walmart.

Retail branding specialist Julius Geis called Dick’s digital platform a very significant “win” that will provide insights on a key customer base.

“Is it a revolution? I wouldn’t say so, but it is a state of the digital experience that simplifies people’s lives. That’s a good thing,” he wrote in an email.

Industry Troubles

The sporting goods industry has suffered numerous insolvencies in recent years. Bankruptcies at Sports Chalet and Sports Authority left hundreds of empty stores, some of which have since been filled by Dick’s, which has a market cap of about $3 billion.

Dick’s said its plan for the San Diego team is to offer free league management services; scheduling, communications, photo-sharing and live scorekeeping on mobile apps; customization and purchase of uniforms and gear; and easy access to sources of donations and sponsorships.

“As an omni-channel retailer, Dick’s is always looking for ways to interact with their customers outside of the traditional retail experience,” Dick’s Senior Vice President Ed Plummer said by email.

“Dick’s Team Sports HQ allows us to connect with consumers on a deeper level and better understand their needs as athletes and parents,” he added, noting the platform “is an integral part of our greater business model.”

The understanding piece most interests Geis, CEO and founder of Julius Geis-Brand Aesthete, a global sports, fashion and outdoors industry consulting firm.

He contends Team Sports HQ is “all about customer data and the knowledge about future target groups.”

It will collect information on sports enthusiasts at a young age — “an age group that is still hard to target,” he said.

He cites a benefit in “the trust it will create with parents and teachers.”

Dick’s is far from the only company offering a team-management digital platform catering to youth and adult sports leagues; Sport Illustrated, for example, has a similarly comprehensive product named “Play.” But Dick’s already has a strong showing, having lined up partnerships with US Youth Soccer, PONY Baseball and Softball and other large sanctioning bodies and leagues representing 9 million young athletes.

Customer Convenience

For PONY, the primary value of Team Sports HQ is convenience.

“There was a time when parents and coaches spent hours manually keying in each individual player into different spreadsheets and documents, which made it hard to attract and retain coaches and volunteers,” said PONY President and CEO Abe Key. “Now, with the help of Team Sports HQ everything is housed in one central location, taking the administrative burden out of the game.”

PONY Information Technology Director Brent Liberatore explained teams won’t be pressured to use the Dick’s platform if, for instance, they want to keep giving their business to a local store.

Making the Acquisitions

Dick’s started assembling the team that includes Affinity with its 2012 acquisition of tech company Blue Sombrero.

The Affinity purchase came in August of last year, and three months later, Dick’s bought GameChanger, which developed a platform for tracking youth league scores and stats.

The company wouldn’t break down labor numbers by location but said Team Sports HQ employs more than 200 people.

A 2016 study of the youth and amateur sports league market by WinterGreen Research predicted significant growth and consolidation. It said integrating acquired companies will be important but difficult.

“Modules brought in from different companies and developers are difficult to integrate into a functioning platform,” the report stated.

“Frequently functionality brought in from an acquisition is torn down and rewritten to make it conform to a platform standard.”

Dick’s said it’s not finished integrating all the planned functionalities of Team Sports HQ. But it’s working on it.

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