Sports Authority was ‘meaningless,’ says Ken Gart

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Sports Authority’s recent bankruptcy, along with those of other chains like Eastern Mountain Sports and Sport Chalet, has flooded the market with gear that has no place to go. Outdoor brands have been stiffed, some to the tune of several million dollars.

Ken Gart

Ken Gart

It’s easy to blame Amazon, and the rise of online retail, but Sports Authority’s failure was no fluke, Ken Gart, Colorado’s bike czar, said Wednesday at the Outdoor Industry Association Rendezvous in Denver. Gart’s family business, Gart Sports, founded in Denver in 1928, was sold in 1992 and now operates as Sports Authority. In addition to Amazon, he blamed the company’s investors, and its “failed business strategy.”

“Amazon led the way to an unprecedented ability to price compare, and to experience the convenience of immediate product shipping to your doorstep,” Gart said. “Amazon and a few other big players have almost destroyed an entire industry. Sports Authority, City Sports and Sport Chalet are some of the Amazon victims.”

Private equity investors also forced the business to expand too quickly, creating debt that was impossible to overcome, Gart said.

“No one took care of the business,” he said. “Instead, the investors sucked it dry.”

But what he said bothers him the most, is that the brand itself had no identity. He spoke at length of his family’s business, which was beloved by customers and always went the extra mile to ensure good service.

“Sports Authority was meaningless to everyone,” Gart said. “A business has to stand for something, and no one quite knew what sports authority stood for when they walked in.”

“Like the forest burning down in a bad Colorado forest fire, the whole retail industry is at risk,” Gart said. But the proverbial aspen trees, the innovation that will rise and persevere, is everywhere. “Customers will be buying differently, but they won’t stop buying. … I believe a business has to stand for something to be successful. I also believe that nothing should stand in the way of their core values. The time is now for the outdoor industry.”

Watch Gart’s full speech, as well as speeches from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Luis Benitez, the director of Colorado’s Office for Outdoor Recreation.