On My Mind: BSN Sports Sales Meeting

Our little world of team sports has certainly changed significantly in the past few years and no where was that more evident than at the BSN Sports annual sales meeting in Phoenix, AZ, last week. I walked the floor of the Phoneix Convention Center along with more than a thousand red-shirt-clad BSN sales pros and saw first hand just how much that company itself has evolved, and at the same time how it has changed the way our business works.

All of the major team sports brands – with a few notable exceptions – were represented, putting some real effort into their booths — not Super Show-in-the-old-days impressive, but certainly a long way from just a few years ago when BSN began its disruptive march into team sports.

The evening’s Awards Ceremony and Dinner had seating for close to 1500, a local marching band and cheerleaders and, I counted, six bars. And then Peyton Manning showed up, courtesy of Gatorade.

A nice touch during the sales meeting were the life-size banners celebrating the almost 300 – 299 to be exact – sales pros who were members of the $1 Million Club in 2019. That club, incidentally, is led by former Bethlehem Sporting Goods salesman George Kline III. BSN president Terry Babilla calls GKIII, who topped the $5 million in sales mark this year, the company “unicorn.”

In addition to celebrating those 299 sales pros, BSN numbers include:

  • Almost 1200 sales pros
  • 3000 BSN total employees
  • $1 billion in annual sales reached for the first time in 2019
  • 300 new sales pros hired in 2019 — 232 from recruitment and 68 from acquired companies
  • A total of 11 acquisitions in 2019
  • Sales calls made to 14,000 high schools in America

The sales meeting’s theme this year was “Selling With Heart,” and BSN chairman Adam Blumenfeld told me that will remain the company’s mantra into 2020. The term “high touch” was repeated constantly and for a company that has grown as rapidly as BSN has that will always be the challenge.

Babilla provided some insight into BSN’s 2020 strategy as well. Knowing that participation trends in team sports are relatively flat, BSN’s effort to gain market share is through its “territory optimization” plan.

That plan calls for a “go-deep strategy.” In essence, BSN sales pros may eventually have fewer school accounts, but be tasked with going deeper into each of those accounts. “I’m tired of us walking by the coaches of the Tier 2 and Tier 3 sports. That will stop,” Babilla said, explaining that BSN is in those 14,000 schools but sells only an average of four to five sports in each school. “If that means fewer accounts, so be it.”

Babilla said BSN will be positioning category managers in those Tier 2 and 3 sports because “we can’t expect our sales pros to be the experts in every sport.” An aggressive hiring plan in 2020 will fill those positions, he added, emphasizing that BSN, Sports Inc., NBS and the other independent team dealers should not be concerned about external threats from the likes of Amazon.

“Team sports remains a high-touch business,” Babilla said. “Personalization is the moat around our business.” With the deep-pocketed resources from Bain Capital behind it, that can eventually be quite a deep moat for BSN.