Franchise News Release: Brandon, FL - (May-5-2004)


i9 Sports says Welcome to the Big Leagues


With his slo-pitch softball team in a five-game losing streak during the summer of 1994, player-manager Frank V. Fiume Jr., grew desperate. So he cobbled together a two-page newsletter taking tongue-in-cheek jabs at his teammates, mostly old college buddies. The ploy ended the losing streak. And the newsletter was so well received that it turned into a weekly ritual, with Fiume running off the 11-by-14 copies at Staples every Sunday night. 

Fiume was encouraged to do more with the newsletter in his native Long Island, N.Y., but he couldn’t come up with a viable business plan. Instead, he worked up the gumption to take on the Long Island softball establishment. For decades, the same people had run the leagues in the same way. They were unorganized. They were inaccessible. Welcome to amateur sports.

Calling itself ABA Sports (Amateur Ballplayers Association), Fiume began his own league in the summer of 1995 with 35 teams, playing on some of the worst fields on Long Island. By 2003, due in part to his own tenacity and the marketing and sales expertise he had gained in medical sales, Fiume’s Long Island softball and flag football leagues had grown to more than 930 teams and 12,000 players, bringing in $735,000 in revenue.

“I knew one thing, I knew what I liked about playing softball,” Fiume said. “And most importantly, I knew what I didn’t like about the way the leagues were being run.”

Now, the 35-year-old Fiume is taking his business to a bigger playing field, having left his career in medical sales in 2000 to bring the art of running amateur sports leagues to the masses. In October 2003, Fiume launched i9 Sports Corporation, the first company in the country to transform running leagues in some of America’s favorite pastimes into a franchised business.

“Amateur sports are the greatest secret in American small business,” said Fiume, who relocated to Florida in 1996 and runs i9 Sports from Brandon, east of Tampa. “It’s ideal for Franchising because there is a market out there and i9 Sports offers the expertise needed to take on those who have been running leagues for years. They can be beat. You can’t be intimidated.”

In only a few months, i9 Sports operates Franchise locations in Tampa/ St. Petersburg, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Philadelphia, Queens, NY, and Long Island, NY. By the end of 2004, i9 Sports plans to grow to 30 Franchises and expects to have 100 sold by the end of 2006. Additional locations are soon expected from Fort Lauderdale to Denver.

i9 Sports operates leagues, tournaments, camps, clinics, special events and corporate outings in the core sports of baseball, basketball, football, golf, hockey, soccer, softball and volleyball. A range of other options… from Wiffleball™ and darts to cheerleading and rugby – are also available. Home-based franchisees can choose from four business models aimed at both youth and adult markets.

The Adult Corporate franchise Package has softball, golf and volleyball, while the Adult Recreational/Competitive Package offers basketball, flag football, and the ability to choose a third sport. The Youth Pastime Package includes baseball/softball and flag/tackle football. The Youth Game Time Package features soccer and basketball. A third sport of a franchisee’s choosing is included in each youth package. All packages are based on full-time business models, but a part-time, one-sport offering is also available.

Franchisees derive their revenues from registration and entry fees, corporate sponsorships, special events, management fees paid by parks and recreation departments, and the online sale of customized uniforms and sporting goods through i9 Sports.

Agreeing that most amateur leagues are run today in archaic fashion, Fiume says the reason is simple. The running of the leagues is not being treated as a business.

“When I was playing in Long Island, there was no effort put into running the league. We were paying a lot of money and not really getting anything in return,” Fiume said. “The core of i9 Sports’ business is POV: Players, officials and venues. The players provide our revenue, great officials give us credibility and the venues give us locations to play.”

The public seems to share in Fiume’s vision. Rich Helm was i9 Sports’ first franchisee. He wanted to start a flag football league in the Tampa Bay area soon after his training ended. With only five weeks to market the league, Helm registered 240 participants ages 6-14 throughout the Tampa Bay area.

Becoming a true national player is i9 Sports’ biggest challenge. It has already taken the necessary steps. Its web site – i9Sports.com – was in development for almost one year. Not only does it allow players to access in-depth news, statistics and information on their team and league, but i9 Sports’ proprietary “Franchise Manager” software allows franchisees to run nearly every facet of their business online.

“The web site is the backbone of the whole business,” Fiume said. “It’s our heart and soul.”

i9 Sports has also established strong affiliations with some of the top governing organizations involved in amateur sports, including the Amateur Softball Association (ASA), United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), and the National Parks and Recreation Association.

The Internet is proving to be a boon for i9 Sports. It has already attracted the attention of web surfers from the United Kingdom and Ireland to Spain and Australia, and the company is planning international expansion within 12 to 24 months.

“Out biggest goal is building a brand name so people will recognize us for the quality we offer. We’ve proven ourselves in New York and Tampa Bay and we’re on our way to proving ourselves in other states, but it will take time,” Fiume said.

 





 

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