From the May 2008 issue of Startups

Soon after graduating from college, Brian Samilian was doing corporate marketing and sponsorship for the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team when he heard an own-your-own-sports-franchise radio spot. "I didn't know exactly what that meant," says Samilian with a laugh. "When I think of owning a sports franchise, I think of owning a team."

Samilian, 27, looked into I9 Sports and found out that the franchise runs amateur sports leagues and tournaments. He decided there was too much of an upside not to take the risk. Making use of his education in business administration and sports management, he started his I9 Sports franchise in 2004 for less than $30,000, doing minimal marketing and working from home up until earlier this year.

In the beginning, he marketed his sports leagues with flyers and road signs as well as through partnerships with sporting-goods stores. But word-of-mouth has proved to be Samilian's best marketing tool. As he runs organized and professional leagues, the parents (and their kids) tell their friends and bring them along for the following seasons. As a result, he's seen his marketing expenses go down as attendance increases. Samilian employs hourly referees and site coordinators to run the practices and games, but he didn't bring on an employee until 2008.

Samilian's I9 Sports territory in Jacksonville, Florida, currently focuses on youth flag-football leagues, with the most participation in the 7-to-11 age range. To reach a wider market, he has started dabbling in basketball and cheerleading, too. He's especially hopeful that his recrea-tional cheerleading league will provide an alternative to other more expensive and intense cheer programs. Whatever the sport, there's always an emphasis on keeping things laid-back, although the company is charging ahead at full strength: Samilian reached sales of $338,000 in 2007 and hopes to pass the $400,000 mark this year.