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What is i9 Sports? | How Good Business Practices Improve Youth Sports

If you have a young all-star-in-the-making, you have probably heard of i9 Sports.  With 14 years in the business and more than 1 million registrants in 28 states in that time, this unique business model has caught traction.  Unique because it is ‘for-profit’ in a space traditionally owned by non-profit stalwarts like YMCA and AAU.  Yet it is catching on all over the country.  A for-profit, private business must focus on the bottom line to survive.  Is it possible that i9 Sports offers a profitable business opportunity without sacrificing the wholesome experience of recreational sports?  Or is a wholesome quality lost when investors want to see returns?  First, an introduction:

What is i9 Sports?

i9 Sports is the first and largest youth sports league franchise.  In 2003, Frank Fiume started i9 in Tampa when he tired of the poor management of his adult softball league.  He saw an opportunity to improve participant experience and make a profit as well.  Now their largest presences are in Florida, Texas, Georgia, and other southern states.  They offer baseball or t ball, lacrosse, soccer, basketball, and flag football.  The franchise model separates i9 Sports from other rec sports leagues.  Local businessmen can pay to use the logo and support, so each league is run by a different ‘area developer’.  i9 helps with marketing, hiring, and software.  The franchise owner fills rosters, contracts a playing field, hires employees, and sets up the league.

i9 Sports vs YMCA vs Upward Sports League, Summer Camps, and Clinics

i9 Sports claims to be the future of youth sports leagues, and they may have a point.  Programs like Upward Sports or AAU or Pop Warner have been around much longer.  Each has 5 times more participants.  Yet parents continue to gravitate to i9.  Like Upward Sports, i9 franchisees use local facilities and organize the league themselves under the company’s framework and support.  Reviews claim that i9’s interface and mobile app are more user friendly.  Although, the Christian affiliation of Upward Sports may be seen as positive or exclusionary as the country grows more diverse.  And no one can top the YMCA for ubiquity, just ask the Men at Work.  Yet with i9’s selective regional advertising, their brand grows each year.

Pop Warner and AAU often proves a testing ground for future college hoops, football, or volleyball prospects.  i9 contrarily advertises the i9 Sports Experience where every kid gets the same chance and same award.  All sports are co-ed and sportsmanship is valued far above scoreboard results.  Playing time and fun are guaranteed, unlike many of the local select leagues for baseball, volleyball, and soccer.  YMCA does not have sufficient staff nor incentive to ensure sportsmanship at all levels.  i9 has to protect its brand with careful background checks and customer service.  Somehow they deliver a more enjoyable, fun, and convenient youth sports leagues than larger non-profit rivals with this tried and proven model.

Finally, parents don’t seem to mind paying a little extra for the convenience of i9 Sports.  501(c)(3) leagues like YMCA charge between $30 and $60 for registration.  i9 Sports costs $120-180 per season registration, but with no hidden fees.  Parents need not volunteer to ref, work the concession stand, organize game times, call everyone, or design jerseys.  In fact, jerseys, trophies, mobile scheduling app, and other equipment are all taken care of by the league, meaning your kids must only show up and play.  Plus you can usually find an i9 Sports coupon code or discount code online to help with the registration fees.

Benefits of i9 Sports Flag Football and Soccer

Flag football and soccer have stood out as the flagship sport at i9, no pun intended.  These sports require a low up-front costs.  Equipment consists of flags, jerseys, balls, and a pop-up goal.  Cleats not included.  Also, local parks or churches gladly rent out their fields when not in use.  Part of the success of these programs is the great organization, from careful layout of the field and seating area to good communication of schedules and expectations.  i9 advertises these sports to 3 year olds through 14 year olds.  Flag football and soccer work perfectly for i9’s Experience model of equal playing time, co-ed opportunity, safety, and fun.  They also have a tight policy on injuries, employing a “when in doubt, sit them out” policy regarding concussion symptoms.

Is Owning an i9 Sports League a Good Franchise Opportunity?

The i9 website and others have many examples of wondrous success stories from their franchisees.  Is that result typical?  Leagues require an upfront investment of $40-75 thousand down.  This includes franchise fee, 1 year of training, their proprietary user interface and a protected territory to recruit from.  Also included is a fee for commercial general liability insurance.  Once leagues are up and running, owners pay 7.5% of revenue as royalties and 1% for advertisement, fairly standard for sporting franchises.  They claim that the median franchise, 5 years old or older, has an annual revenue of $360,000.  No word on how much of that is profit or expenses, but this model has shown potential to make some money all the same.  For parents and entrepreneurs passionate about youth sports, Entrepreneur Magazine consistently ranks i9 Sports among your top options.

Where can I find i9 Sports near me? i9 Sports Reviews?

Enter your zip code on their website to see which sports and programs are offered near you.  Next, explore more youth sports recommendations with our list of Top Sports for 5 Year Olds.  For personal reviews of parents’ experiences with i9 Sports, check your local Yelp discussion forum or city-data forum.  Large cities will likely have a thread discussing local youth sports options.

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