Ah, the 80’s… A time when the sporting goods industry was at its peak — both in growth and as a draw for some of the best and brightest coming out of college.  Fast forward 20 years and this industry just isn’t what many graduates have in mind when it comes to a career.  The reasons are many and the impact is huge as companies, rep agencies, and retailers yearn for the good ol’ days when there was a ready, willing and eager stream of talent from which to choose.  We just aren’t attracting enough good people anymore.

That reality is the basis of a new initiative launched by a varied group of sporting goods industry executives, trade associations and media that hopes to reach more of the next generation by going to the source – the schools. (See story page 4.)  While business schools and marketing classes routinely look at many companies in our industry as case studies, those same companies rarely see the same level of interest when it comes to recruiting.  While our brands and our retailers are often the focus of great interest by the financial community, that excitement has been lost on a potential new generation of talent that just walks by the sporting goods table on career day without giving us a second look.

The trouble is we aren’t the new kid on the block anymore.  We aren’t seen as sexy.  We aren’t the hot market for careers.  Yes, Wall Street will get their usual slice of the B-School crop, and that pesky Internet market — hasn’t that fad gone away yet — will get their share of the entrepreneurs, but our industry won’t take a back seat anymore and wait for the future to come to us.  We’re going to make the first move and start to market our industry as a great place to work, play, grow and prosper.

Get in the Game, the moniker around which this industry group has rallied, will become the banner under which many of the best and brightest in our industry will present this market as a great place to be for the best and brightest coming out of college.

As a business owner, there’s nothing like finding that needle in a haystack, imparting a few words of wisdom and direction over the years, and seeing that person turn into a solid professional in the industry you grew up in yourself.  The 80’s were a time when the sporting goods industry routinely siphoned off talent from leading consumer package goods companies.  The 90’s saw a reversal of the trend as other markets began to poach our young talent with promises of Wall Street riches and Silicon Valley dreams.  But it appears we aren’t even in the game anymore.

So how do we change it?  For starters, we have to look past our own self interests and work on this project for the industry as a whole.  Yes, we all spend time at schools speaking about our companies, but we don’t spend enough time talking about the broader market that allowed us to become successful.  To that end, you will see a first this month as two trade publishing competitors both dedicate their publisher’s letter to this initiative.  We will both dedicate editorial, ad space, and time to help make it successful.  We hope others will follow suit and work together to move the Get in the Game program forward.  Competitors are working on developing a cohesive, comprehensive marketing presentation.  The two major trade associations serving the market are sitting at the same table working on solutions.  Current (and future) Hall of Famers are committed to the effort to create a new crop of leaders.

So we urge that you, as an industry leader, Get in the Game yourself.  Contact Rusty Saunders (rws7234@aol.com) or Larry Weindruch (lweindruch@nsga.org) for more information.  Or call me, I’ll share with you my thoughts in more detail.  Or we can just talk about the good ol’ days…