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Sports Authority Ventures Into Elite Territory

Big-box retailer Sports Authority is about to launch a new brand, a smaller, more upscale offshoot called S.A. Elite. The first S.A. Elite store will open in August in Denver, Colo. and will eventually be followed by hundreds of stores nationwide, says Jeff Schumacher, executive vice president, CMO and CSO with Sports Authority. The concept will focus on sports apparel, footwear and accessories.

The U.S. athletic apparel market is currently valued at approximately $14.2 billion, according to just-style, an online resource for the apparel and textile industries. That figure will likely grow by 8.5 percent by 2014, to $15.3 billion.

In S.A. Elite, Sports Authority’s management team sees an opportunity to grow market share among its current customers and potentially attract new clientele, according to Schumacher. Sports Authority’s core demographic spans the age range from 18-year-olds to 50-year-olds.

The company has chosen to debut the store not far from its Englewood, Colo. corporate headquarters. S.A. Elite will open at the Cherry Creek Shopping Center and is listed as “Coming Soon” on the mall Web site’s list of new stores.

The new concept will sell many of the same brands currently sold at Sports Authority stores, including Nike, the North Face and Under Armour, but in a higher-end assortment. S.A. Elite will also sell some brands not found at Sports Authority locations—for example, Oakley sunglasses. A pair of Oakley sports sunglasses can cost up to $200. A pair of Ono’s sunglasses, one of the top sellers at Sports Authority stores, costs only $39.99.

“It will be a different experience from our big-box experience, from the assortment to the fixtures to the lighting to the service” Schumacher says.

The S.A. Elite stores will range from 12,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet and will go into higher-end locations in urban centers, including malls and freestanding buildings. After the launch of the Denver store, Sports Authority will open several more stores this year, in undisclosed locales. The retailer’s five-year plan is to open hundreds of stores nationwide, potentially growing the fleet to as many as 300 units.

Though S.A. Elite will likely go into some markets that are not served by Sports Authority, chances are it will closely follow the geographic distribution of Sports Authority big-box stores, says Schumacher. Sports Authority currently operates 462 stores in 45 states.

“We are definitely looking at higher-end [locations], higher end assortment, focusing on higher end experience in metro centers and cities that can deliver that,” Schumacher notes.

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