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Good Sports

Get off the sidelines and into the game! Starting a business based on professional sports could put you in the big leagues.

The crunching of body parts, as 300-pound linebackers slam into each other. The crack of the bat, as Sammy Sosa slams another ball, whipping through the air and into a stadium full of thousands of cheering fans. Millionaire giants lunge for a ball, hoping for the chance to seize a brief moment of glory and win one for the team.

There are a hundred dozen ways to explain the appeal of sports--and yet no way to explain it. You either get it or you don't.

But one thing is for sure: "Sports" is plural; it's almost always about the team. There are a few exceptions, like golf and tennis, but most sports are a group effort. That's why fans always shout "We won," instead of "You won." But as some entrepreneurs know, you can be part of a winning team without being able to pitch a 95-mile-an-hour fastball. You don't even have to paint your face green and scream like a lunatic in 25-degree weather. You can be part of a team by starting a business in the professional sports industry.

Sure, you can focus your company on college sports, where everybody is making money, even the players--or do you think free college tuition and other perks aren't forms of money? Or you might make a mint with a business aimed squarely at the high school or kiddie sports crowd. But arguably, your best point spread comes when you can attach yourself in some way to professional sports, where there are more teams and fans, and where there's more money. In part, that's because it's an ever-changing, ever-evolving industry, says Skip Horween, president of Chicago-based Horween Leather Co., which has been providing leather for NFL footballs since the 1950s. "There are a lot of barriers," he says of entering professional sports, citing a base of established competitors, many of whom are running lean by outsourcing their operations. But on the plus side, "there's differentiation and specialization," more so than in other industries. For instance, Horween, 47, knows of an entrepreneur who sells briefcases, watches and other leather-made gifts, all manufactured from old major league baseball gloves. That type of innovation is rooted in the history of the sports industry.

And so if you want the best odds to create your own winning team, you may hit a home run by starting a business based on professional sports.

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the March 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Good Sports.

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