Not being much of an athlete, I don't spend a lot of time in Sports Authority's (NYSE:TSA) stores. About the only exposure I get to the retailer is around Christmastime. I make an annual excursion to the local store to acquire a box of golf balls for my brother (guess I'm one of those boring gift-givers who never deviates from the normal offerings). I'm usually in and out of the warehouse in a matter of minutes, or the amount of time it takes a day trader to make 10 round-trips in Taser (NASDAQ:TASR).

Nevertheless, I will now don my hockey mask and see if I can skate around some of the key points of the company's first-quarter earnings scorecard. Some context is necessary, however, since the results must be looked at in terms of the merger that occurred last year between Sports Authority and Gart Sports. As such, here is an important note: All of the previous year's results reflect the performance of Gart Sports by itself.

On a consolidated GAAP basis -- which would include the effect of the merger -- the diluted net earnings per share came in at $0.15 per share versus $0.34 per share last year. Backing out the financial costs of the marriage between the companies shows investors that the diluted earnings per share were $0.35 for the 2004 quarter versus $0.18 for the similar time frame in 2003.

Obviously, there is a cost associated with a union between two businesses, so the GAAP results are an important concern. Yet, the pro forma examination shows that Sports Authority is doing reasonably well navigating the specialty market of sports-and-leisure supplies.

Net sales results on a consolidated basis for this past quarter were $572 million versus $228 million, so from a top-line perspective, there's definitely growth. Additionally, gross margins increased more than two percentage points, which is always welcome. There is a qualifier to the sales figures. Reading through the release reveals that same-store sales for the merged concern increased only 0.3%, and the forecast for next quarter's same stores will be flat.

Once again, though, I have to go back to the aforementioned important note: Last year's numbers are reflective of Gart Sports alone. Seth Jayson complained back in March about the need for a clearer -- in his words, "apples to apples"-- comparison (a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly concur). Going forward, Sports Authority is going to need to step up its game and show that it can play ball with its new partner.

There are a lot of competitors out there in this retailing sector, such as Dick's Sporting Goods (NYSE:DKS) and Galyan's Trading (NASDAQ:GLYN). Even though the former was recently in the doldrums, while the latter was wrestling with expansion paradigms, none of this means that Sports Authority has a free ride. If anything, it only highlights a need to really work at the job of capturing the respect of the demanding sports-consuming audience.

Personally, I'd be careful about entering into Sports Authority at the moment. Shares have already had something of a run-up, though they've backed off recently from the 52-week high, perhaps on concern over the merger. Also, while writing this, I see that the company has announced the resignation of its president and chief merchandising officer. This might be meaningless over the long haul, but bears scrutiny nevertheless.

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Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns none of the companies mentioned.