Innovation, market trends, manufacturers, distributors--there are a lot of terms thrown about in the sports industry that you'll also hear in the corporate sector. So while it's obvious, it still needs to be said--a sports-related business is a business. "Once you get past the point of being amazed that 'Hey, I'm working with really tall people in basketball,' you'll realize you're marketing a product like Coca-Cola or anything else," observes Dan Mannix, CEO of LeadDog Marketing Group in New York City and adjunct professor at New York University, where he teaches classes in sports entrepreneurship and sports events tourism.
Echoing those thoughts, former business consultant Jennifer Munro says, "You still have to have the right sales, accounting, the capitalization and management. You're working with the same principles as an accounting firm." Munro knows of what she speaks. She's now the president of corporate sales at Golf Digest Schools in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and specializes in hosting corporate programs that bring business concepts and the sport of golf together.
But Munro concedes that while it's a business, the sports industry is "glamorous; it's more exciting, if you're into drama and excitement and visibility. And it's simply more fun."
"The sports-industry crowd is much more fun, and more satisfying [to be a part of], than the corporate sector," agrees Ed Estes, owner of Cincinnati-based DigitalBang LLC. "Of course, I love sports, and that's a big part of it."
Estes' company, which employs seven people, was an all-purpose marketing firm when it began in 1997--until Estes discovered sports. Today, sports-related marketing accounts for approximately 75 percent of his business, which stands to make $2 million by the end of 2004. Estes' first foray into sports was Hoops Frenzy, a software program that helps people run their own men's college basketball contests online. In a nutshell, Hoops Frenzy capitalizes on the office basketball pools across the country, and it makes it easier and quicker for the office pool manager to keep track of scores, teams and who in the pool is winning what. From there, DigitalBang moved on to creating online sports games that customers can play at company Web sites, which offer consumers fun but also ask questions about their buying habits along the way. The company now has products relating to everything from NASCAR to football.
Estes, 38, says it's always a challenge to serve impassioned customers: "You're going to hear very quickly if you get something wrong. If we accidentally input a score wrong [using the Hoops Frenzy software], we might get a dozen e-mail messages. But as long as your answer to your customer is accommodating, people [will] forgive those bumps. Just make sure you are ready to respond quickly when you do mess up."
But even the messing up isn't so bad, because it's linked to a lifestyle and culture that Estes feels passionate about. "This is so much more satisfying than any other industry I've been involved with," says Estes, who used to work in IT sales. "In the corporate world, you're working on what the client needs done, and you often don't feel that great about the product you're working on. But when it's related to sports, because most of us here enjoy sports 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we feed off that satisfaction. And so even though it's a business, suddenly it becomes a much more interesting one when it's spun around a sporting event."
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.