Behind every team is an equipment manager; a behind-the-scenes guy with unfaltering passion for the game. In this post we’re going to look at the many duties of these gear commanders in the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA and how these leagues ship their equipment near and far. That shipment is critical (and heavy). Without the trunks of gear the players can’t play.
These guys handle everything and more. Everything is all the gear that players need to play their best. The main objective is for all the equipment, all the uniforms, to work without a hitch so players focus on what they do best. The word ‘more’ covers how these equipment managers make the family happy. A helmet needs a new chinstrap; all the gear needs washing; the coach needs his shirt ironed and a Diet Coke. Who gets it done? The equipment manager: wearer of many hats and a jack-of-all-trades.
A week can entail a staggering variety of tasks from scrubbing mud from cleats to running errands for players. From doing 100-pound loads of laundry to making dinner reservations. From stitching pants to tying shoes. From sharpening skates to vacuuming the locker room. From fixing radios to stocking shampoo in the showers. They do everything. Some managers are aptly nicknamed the team mom. I mean, they are essentially babysitting mountain-sized children.
On game days the babysitting runs late. Really late. EM’s are there early in the morning and don’t leave until at least midnight and sometimes later. In this post I’m going to run through how these guys outside the spotlight do their job throughout the season.
Gearing up for the Season
Players are master craftsmen with their tools. They perform feats you have to see to believe. All that gear needs to be just perfect to make that magic happen. Preparation is crucial and meticulous planning is a must. EM’s have to make sure that those tools are available for their men. And when they pack up they know every players needs and every cases contents.
These gear commanders keep everything stocked and set up for all the gear needed for the season. Let’s take a look at some numbers. An average of three basketballs is used in NBA games. For a standard NHL game the three periods use about a dozen pucks. 12 footballs need to be provided by each team for each game in the NFL. 24 if there is inclement weather. And that’s not including the 12 others provided by the league for kicking. So, that’s 36-60 balls a game. Each team orders roughly 720 balls each year. Multiply that by the 32 teams in the NFL and that comes to 23,040 annually. Holy balls! But that doesn’t even hold a candle to how many baseballs the MLB uses each year. Do you want to know? Prepare yourself. 900,000. Baseballs. Each. Year.
These teams are providing at least six dozen balls for each game. And all of it needs to be shipped with the rest of the equipment filling up the trunks. Year after year new gear needs to be provided.
Every piece of gear needs to be accounted for. They can’t just be handed out willy-nilly. Everything needs to be documented. Everything put into a computer. For MLB Spring Training the clubhouse is stripped bare and loaded onto an 18-wheeler. The whole load is then hauled to wherever Spring Training is actually taking place. After the seven or so weeks it’s all loaded up again and shipped back to the clubhouse.
The gear is always on the move. Once it’s all back home it doesn’t even have time to put up its feet and get cozy. Lockers need to be filled with jerseys and the rest of the apparel. Even then those threads don’t just sit there. Sweat, grass, and dirt are rubbed in for good measure then they are off to be washed. Everything is go, go, go. The gear spins round and round in industrial machines for what seems to be indefinite. Locker, practice, wash, repeat. And repeat, and repeat again. The gear has to have more miles than the players that wear it. But hey, that’s the job.
Gearing up for the Game
All managers in all the leagues usually have a storage place/workshop for all the gear they are responsible for. Cracks and rips need to be mended in the shop, so tools are at the ready. Want to know the most surprising tool that is used by an NHL team? A microwave. Tool isn’t usually the word that comes to mind when you think of a microwave. But if you need some piping hot plastic to mold as a skate guard then you go to the microwave. Hopefully, there is a separate one to heat food in…
For all the collision and hard hits doled out in the NFL and all the other leagues, there has to be a lot of extra equipment on hand. If things get broken in a game (and they definitely do), they need to be fixed fast so the player doesn’t miss too many plays. I know I’m repeating myself, but the amount of travel this gear undergoes is crazy to think about. Not just for away games, but also for teams whose practice facilities aren’t in the same place as the stadium. Every game becomes an away game at that point.
Equipment cases are lugged back and forth week in and week out. The gear should have its own frequent flier miles. I mean, by the beard of Zeus it travels farther than Magellan’s voyage. And each time equipment managers have to be absolutely certain that nothing is left behind. With so much to be accounted for that’s quite the weekly task, especially with the gargantuan amount of equipment that is being carted to and fro. The NFL numbers are tough to fathom. 15,000 pounds. Over 7 tons of equipment is brought to each game! Jim Phelan, the director of administration for the New York Giants, says that enough equipment is brought to outfit half of the team. Just for each away game. Seems that they are firm believers in the scouts’ code; always be prepared.
1,800 pounds of gear is lugged around for NHL away games. The shipping manifest includes 25 equipment bags for the essentials. Then there are bags to hold around 300 hockey sticks and backup equipment. Now, medical supplies are a must for the trainers to have on the sidelines. These guys play hard and the equipment manager makes certain that the team is prepared at every game, home or away, with everything they need. I mean everything. Not just the essential things for the game like pads, helmets, and jerseys. But toilet paper too. When the New York Jets flew over to London this season they brought their own TP. 350 rolls of it.
Plus, studying the game is a must. Add more cases for all the video and film equipment. Along with the standard medical and broadcast supplies also comes a sewing machine and for the NHL a skate sharpener. The gear piles up fast and needs to be packed even faster. Tons and tons of equipment don’t seem so unreasonable when you realize how much teams need to prepare for in each game.
In the Thick of it: Game Time
For some EM’s the game is actually a time of calm. It’s a break from all the hustle and bustle associated with the intense preparation. Unfortunately, that is not the case for those in the frozen realm. Gloves and skates need to be dried and blades sharpened. To add pressure, it needs to be done in fifteen minutes between periods. Sometimes, it even happens during the period and not just for one guy!
Some guys on the ice change gloves three or four times per period! One pair of gloves cannot handle the sweat of their hands. How much are their hands sweating?! Jeez. The equipment managers keep rotating gloves on and off dryers. When those dryers are full of skates and other gloves they even have to use hair dryers. There is a staggering amount of equipment needed for each game and just as many strings to be pulled.
On to the next One
Post game: time to get the team on the bus and onto the next plane. Phones are buzzing with calls and texts to coordinate pick up and drop off times to the minute. Weeks of planning come into effect just for these singular days in what seems like the blink of an eye.
Preparedness is vital even more so when players trade jerseys at the end of a game. Giving it away means a new jersey. Uniforms tailored and sewn by the manager to fit just them and they’re just giving them away! I understand the tradition, but extra jerseys mean more pounds in those cases and more seams to sew. That’s even before the team gets back into the locker room.
After MLB games, the Clubhouse manager, or clubbie, is responsible for providing the spread of food for 25 hungry athletes out of their own pockets. That’s quite a hefty bill considering how much those guys can eat. They get paid back in player dues and tips, sure, but still a pretty penny when you consider the price of salmon and pasta for that many people, let alone superhuman athletes.
After the game, it’s time to get back on the bus to the plane to fly to the next destination. Crawl into bed after 3 AM and at the stadium the next morning to start the circus all over again. Although, it is a coordinated and meticulously planned circus it’s tough with a lot of pressure. But these equipment managers love it. When you have that passion it’s not work, just a lifestyle.
By the Numbers:
Here are just a couple simple calculations and figures I found around the web.
- 300 – Pairs of sneakers are prepared for each game in the NBA
- 350 – Rolls of toilet paper shipped by the NY Jets to London
- Over 100 – Hours of airtime in a season
- 18 Loads of laundry on NHL game day
Shipped for each game in the NFL found by Marshall Brian:
- 3 – Bags brought for each player
- 40 – Coach and staff bags
- 20 – Personal luggage bags
- 4 – Football bags
- 1 – Extra jerseys trunk
- 1 – Valuables trunk
- 1 – Field trunk
- 2 – Rain Cape trunks
- 1 – Projector trunk
- 1 – Screen trunk
- 2 – Video printers
- 1 – Video assembly trunk
- 3 – Camera trunks
- 3 – Camera tripod tubes
- 3 – Empty camera bags
- 2 – Tape trunks
- 1 – Tent for video printer
- 1 – Coach to QB trunk
- 1 – Tool kit
- 1 – Headphone trunk
- 2 – Hotel trunks
- 2 – Orthopedic device trunks
- 1 – Gatorade and electrical trunk
- 1 – Emergency trunk
- 1 – Trunk for splints and air-mattress
- 1 – Splint bag
- 1 – Soft goods bag
- 6 – 10-gallon coolers
- 3 – 6-gallon coolers
- 1 – Folding table
- 9 – Clothes hampers
- 1 – Extra parts trunk
- 1 – Trunk for extra clothes and pads
- 4 – Extra equipment bags
- Skull caps
- Thermal underclothing
- Long underwear
- Thermal socks
- Four kinds of gloves
- Cold-weather cream
- Heated benches
- 25 – Equipment bags
- 5 – Duffels for coaches
- 3 – Bags for sticks
- 300 – Sticks in those bags
- 2 – Medical trunks
- 2 – Video trunks
- 2 – Trunks for skates
- 23 – Pairs of skates in each trunk
- 1 – Trunk for tools, pucks, and sewing machine
- 1 – Jersey case
- 5 – Bags for clothes and medical supplies
- 2 – Trunks for TV gear
- 1 – Case for workout supplements