Clear Standards Fuel Bat Sales

Amazing what a little clarity can do.

With the NCAA and National High School Federation (NHFS) regulations regarding bat specifications finally in place, aluminum bats have been a star performer for sporting goods retailers. Manufacturers of the bats are forecasting that the rocketing sales will continue through the new year.

“This year has been phenomenal,” said Tony Palma, president of Easton Sports. “When the NCAA and NHFS made their announcements that there would be no more rule changes, the floodgates of consumer demand for men’s slow pitch softball bats opened.”

Palma reports that Easton’s baseball bat business is up 80 percent this year.

Louisville Slugger also is experiencing significant sales increases, up 40 percent in the first quarter of its July ’00 to June ’01 fiscal year.

“Normalcy has been restored to bat retailing,” said Marty Archer, president of Louisville Slugger, a division of Hillerich and Bradsby. “Players and retailers are no longer as much in the dark on what they should or should not be buying.”

And what should they be buying? In order to conform to the current NCAA specifications and the future NHFS regulations (which will go into effect on January 1, 2001), the new bats must be 2-5/8″ in diameter around the barrel with a-3 weight-to-length ratio.

Choices include Easton’s BT2-Z ConneXion Z-Core, which uses the company’s Focus Flex technology, allowing the handle and barrel of the bat to act independently. The separate handle and barrel are permanently bonded together with an elastomer known as ConneXion that eliminates vibration and helps extend the bat’s “sweet spot” from the taper to the barrel’s end,

Louisville Slugger offers the TPX C555 line of bats, made with a new aluminum alloy technology from Alcoa that provides particularly high strength and dent resistance. The TPX Air C555 features a three-compartment, nitrogen-filled chamber in the barrel; when the bat makes contact with the ball, the force of impact is localized in one of the compartments, tripling the incremental pressure and returing it back to the ball. The result is greater “pop” off the barrel along with solid sound and feel. A Platinum model, without the air technology, also is available.

“From our point of view, the aluminum bat windfall will carry through to next year,” Palma said. Archer agreed, “Kids will be buying new hats to replace their old ones that no longer meet the standard.”

The predictions of the manufacturers are echoed by retailers.

“With the rule changes and the new products being required for next spring, we have seen a lot of replacement bat business over the last six months,” said Greg Vanover, sporting goods buyer for Chick’s. “I’d expect that to continue for the first four months of 2001, at least.”

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