American Athletic, Inc. / Spalding in Jefferson, Iowa, Proves Small Towns Can Power Big Business
6 Apr 2023
Is your basketball equipment lingo expert level? If you live in Jefferson, Iowa, there’s a good chance it is. In this rural Western Iowa town of 4,150, American Athletic, Inc. / Spalding manufactures most backstops used for NCAA March Madness, WNBA, and NBA games. For those not entirely up with the technical jargon, a backstop is the hoop and everything surrounding it, including the rim, the backboard, the stanchion, and the weights anchoring the whole apparatus.
“We started supplying to the NCAA championship games in 2009,” said Steve Kohl, General Manager of AAI / Spalding. “Every year, our team starts preparing for the journey to March Madness months in advance. Each step is well choreographed, from identifying product needs, order entries, manufacturing of custom products, logistics, team members traveling to set up specific venues, and event support. We’re very good at it! And, of course, it makes watching the games that much more enjoyable.”
AAI / Spalding is not just basketball. Founded under a different name in 1954 by University of Iowa Big Ten gymnastics champion Bill Sorensen, the company started by making trampolines out of a Jefferson hardware store’s basement.
Through expansions, mergers, and acquisitions, the company added gymnastics, volleyball, cheerleading, gym, and basketball equipment to its manufacturing line. History highlights include being the official equipment supplier for USA Gymnastics, the 1984 and 1996 Olympics in Los Angeles and Atlanta, and the American Cup. Its G2N — Gym to Ninja — product line connects the gymnastics and fitness worlds. Since 1991, AAI has presented the AAI Award to the most outstanding senior female collegiate gymnast in the United States.
In 1996, AAI merged with a basketball manufacturing company, and in 2004, it was acquired by Russell Brands, LLC, which also owned Spalding (Fruit of the Loom has since acquired Russell Brands, LLC). With Spalding as a partner, AAI landed deals with the NBA, WNBA, and NCAA Tournaments.
“Although our town is small, our team takes great pride in knowing that they are part of something larger,” said Kohl. “They know that they manufacture equipment used by top athletes around the world in multiple sports, including gymnastics, basketball, and volleyball. We manufacture the best equipment on the market and support athletes from the development stages through elite.”
Through it all, the company has operated continuously in the same plant in Jefferson. As Kohl said, “Small town, big pride. Being in Iowa gives us logistical advantages as well as the opportunity to build relationships and help support many great family-owned suppliers throughout the state.”
“AAI / Spalding is yet another manufacturer of a unique and specialized product that is known worldwide and was started here in Western Iowa,” said Chris Whitaker, Region XII COG Local Assistance Director and Western Iowa Advantage managing partner.
Western Iowa Advantage recently toured the AAI / Spalding facility. “Western Iowa Advantage partners tour seven or eight existing businesses and industries across the region annually,” said Whitaker. “These tours allow us to see the unique products manufactured in the region while expanding our business retention and expansion efforts.”
“We want to see our community grow, and as our business increases, there is a demand for additional workforce,” said Kohl. “Western Iowa Advantage members are dedicated to helping us create a community environment that brings in new business, supports entrepreneurs, expands educational opportunities, and most importantly, attracts new talent.”
AAI / Spalding is looking for new team members in all areas who want to grow with the company. Kohl said their short-term revenue growth initiative of 30 percent is aggressive, “but with our two elite brands, the opportunities are endless.”
“We are proud of what we do and have a fun group of coworkers to share the experience with,” said Kohl. “Coworkers may be your neighbors, your kids may be in the same classes at school and participate in extracurricular activities together, you may share some of the same friends outside of work, or you may run into them often when shopping local businesses in our vibrant downtown.”
Kohl attributes remaining on the leading edge of the gymnastics world to AAI / Spalding’s team members. “We have team members throughout the country who work closely with those in Jefferson to ensure our customers have a great experience,” said Kohl. “They support many major events and hustle every day to help grow the sport they love. Many members of our team were competitive athletes, coaches, or club owners. They have a passion for gymnastics, have deep ties into the gymnastics community, and understand what our customers need to be successful.”
“We’re everywhere that you may not have expected,” said Kohl.
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