What happened to Sports Authority?

  • Sports Authority was an American sports retailer founded by a group of venture capitalists and founding executives in 1987. Increasingly burdened by debt, the company filed for bankruptcy in 2016.
  • Sports Authority experienced intense competition from big-box retailers and eCommerce giants. Its tired stores and high prices could not compete with online shopping.
  • Sports Authority also could not identify and then capitalize on trends. This was due to a combination of poor corporate leadership and insufficient investment capital.

Certainly, here’s a comprehensive table describing what happened to Sports Authority:

Founding and GrowthSports Authority was founded in 1987 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as a sporting goods retail chain. It grew to become one of the largest sporting goods retailers in the United States.
Retail ExpansionOver the years, Sports Authority expanded its presence with hundreds of retail locations across the United States, offering a wide range of sporting equipment, apparel, and accessories.
Bankruptcy FilingIn March 2016, Sports Authority filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection due to financial difficulties, including heavy debt and increased competition from online retailers.
Store ClosuresFollowing the bankruptcy filing, Sports Authority announced plans to close approximately 140 stores, representing nearly one-third of its locations, as part of a restructuring effort.
Failed SaleDespite attempts to reorganize and find a buyer, Sports Authority was unable to secure a successful sale of its assets and opted for a full liquidation of its remaining stores.
LiquidationIn May 2016, Sports Authority began liquidating its remaining inventory and closing all of its stores, marking the end of the brand’s presence in the sporting goods retail market.
Impact on EmployeesThe closure of Sports Authority resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs, affecting both retail employees and corporate staff. Many employees were left seeking new employment opportunities.
Retail Landscape ChangesThe bankruptcy and closure of Sports Authority highlighted the challenges faced by traditional brick-and-mortar retailers in an increasingly competitive retail landscape, where e-commerce and online shopping were on the rise.
Legacy and BrandDespite its closure, Sports Authority’s brand and legacy continued to resonate with consumers who remembered the retailer as a go-to destination for sporting goods and athletic equipment.
Remaining CompetitorsThe closure of Sports Authority created opportunities for its competitors, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and online retailers like Amazon, to capture a larger share of the sporting goods market.
Bankruptcy ConsequencesThe bankruptcy and closure of Sports Authority served as a cautionary tale in the retail industry, highlighting the importance of adaptability and financial sustainability in the face of changing consumer preferences and market dynamics.


Sports Authority was an American sports retailer originally founded by Nathan Gart in 1928. 

Gart opened the first store, called Gart Brothers, with $50 in fishing rod samples. Sports Authority as most people know it was founded in 1987 by a syndicate of venture capital groups and several founding executives. 

At its peak, the company was the largest sporting goods store in the United States with over 460 stores and 14,000 employees.

In March 2016, Sports Authority filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection with debts topping $1 billion.

Proceedings were then converted to Chapter 7 some months later, with Dick’s Sporting Goods acquiring the company’s brand name and intellectual property.

Let’s discuss some of the key factors behind the demise of Sports Authority below.

Competition and brand differentiation

Sports Authority suffered intense competition from Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, Target, and Amazon, with the latter taking market share away from many big-box retailers.

Competition from omnichannel merchants and individual brands such as Nike was also high. This made it exceedingly difficult for the underdeveloped Sports Authority brand to stand out.

eCommerce presence

Although not alone, Sports Authority failed to capitalize on the growing eCommerce movement. 

The company was unable to compensate for its lack of online presence with hundreds of physical stores in dire need of a refresh.

Customers also complained of high store prices with the company not honoring coupons for popular brands.

As a result, consumers went online to competitors with greater product range, price transparency, and convenience.

Failure to recognize trends

The company also failed to identify and capitalize on trends.

One example was the so-called “athleisure” trend of casual wear inspired by workout clothing.

Competitors such as Lululemon and Under Armour quickly gained market share, with Dick’s Sporting Goods and Nike joining later.

Each company offered a blueprint for success that Sports Authority was not interested in replicating.

Lack of innovative thinking

In an interview about the downfall of Sports Authority, brand and strategy consultant Lee Peterson was critical of the lack of vision at the corporate level.

Any time you see a company move slowly on trends, it’s usually a lack of leadership, which creates bureaucracy, [which] creates stagnation. I know Sports Authority opened some ‘new look’ stores with interesting names, but when you went inside, there was actually nothing new.

The lack of forward-thinking limited the company’s ability to identify trends and develop a strong and recognizable brand


Another factor that hindered the flexibility of the company was debt.

Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Sports Authority took on a mountain of debt that it would struggle to repay.

In 2006, the company was sold to Leonard Green & Partners. Typical of such a deal, the private equity firm then placed the debt it had incurred in making the purchase back on Sports Authority.

In March 2016, it failed to make a $20 million debt repayment and then declared bankruptcy two months later.

Key Highlights:

  • Sports Authority was an American sports retailer founded in 1928 and later rebranded as “Sports Authority” in 1987 by venture capitalists and founding executives.
  • At its peak, the company had over 460 stores and 14,000 employees, making it the largest sporting goods store in the United States.
  • Sports Authority faced intense competition from big-box retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, and Target, as well as eCommerce giants like Amazon.
  • The company struggled to establish a strong online presence, leading customers to seek more convenient and price-transparent options online.
  • Sports Authority failed to recognize and capitalize on trends, such as the athleisure trend, allowing competitors like Lululemon and Under Armour to gain market share.
  • The lack of innovative thinking and visionary leadership at the corporate level hindered the company’s ability to stand out in a competitive market.
  • Sports Authority was burdened with substantial debt due to a series of mergers and acquisitions, limiting its financial flexibility and eventually leading to bankruptcy in 2016.

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