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Attention, Sports Fans!

It's time to check out these opportunities in sports-related franchising.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

A self-professed sports nut, Kent Oldham considers himself one lucky entrepreneur. The Triple Crown Sports franchisee gets to collect his paycheck where his passion lies.

"It's easy to get involved in a sport you love, but to actually be a business owner in that sport is uncommon," says Oldham, whose Bastrop, Texas, franchise runs local competitive amateur sports tournaments for adults and children.

Thanks to a burgeoning interest in sports nationwide, many enthusiasts are tackling opportunities to make their love of sports a business. Franchises offering such services as events and recruiting are catching on, and there's no sign of the trend abating any time soon.

According to the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA), sales of sporting goods have increased between 3 and 5 percent every year since 1990 and are expected to increase another 4 percent this year. Sports overall seems to be a growing field, says Dan Kasen, NSGA's manager of information services.

There's more interest in sports in general, agrees Jack Wright, executive vice president of Collegiate Sports of America Inc., a franchise that expects to generate sales of $1 million in its 2000-2001 fiscal year. The franchise helps qualified high school athletes gain exposure to college and university coaches, giving them a shot at scholarships and a chance to play at the next level. "Participation in high school athletics and amateur sports will surpass 7 million in 2003," predicts Wright. "The amount of money being spent on [camps, uniforms and travel expenses for] amateur athletes in general is in the billions."

Because sports fans and athletes are located throughout the United States, the best model for sports-related businesses is proving to be franchises.

For 15 years, Triple Crown Sports ran tournaments from its central office-until it became apparent there had to be an easier way. "We finally decided the business lent itself to franchising because the events are done at a local level," says David King, who founded the company in 1982 and began franchising in 1997. "By franchising, we've cut down on travel costs considerably and made the operation much more profitable."

Today, with 10 owners in 24 franchise areas, Triple Crown Sports still has plenty of territories left. Each franchise has annual gross sales of anywhere from $70,000 to $420,000, with the investment required starting at $14,500 and going up, depending on the territory.

Before Triple Crown began franchising, Oldham worked for the company's corporate office. When he moved to Austin, Texas, in 1999, he bought a franchise and had a very successful first year. "Franchising is the best way to meet the needs of customers," says Oldham. "Whereas I used to fly into areas and hold the tournaments, now I actually live in one of the territories. I have time to develop personal relationships and check out the competition. In addition, I can use the elaborate network system built by the corporate headquarters."

As for having a franchise, Oldham couldn't be happier with the results. "I've had a phenomenal first year. I'm making money doing something I love, and it's all very flexible," he says. "I'm able to run the business from a home office, with part-time help on the weekends for the tournaments."

Julie Bawden Davis is an Orange, California, writer who specializes in small and homebased business issues. She often contributes to The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and Entrepreneur's Start-Ups.

School Spirit

Owning a sports franchise does tend to be an extremely fulfilling experience, says Wright of Collegiate Sports of America. "The people who franchise with us aren't just trying to make a buck," he explains. "They really have a passion for sports."

Another key to the success of sports franchises is that they provide a much needed service. "Jeffry Duva started Collegiate Sports in 1982 because he witnessed many worthy high school football players who never had the opportunity to be recruited to colleges and universities due to limited recruiting budgets and manpower," says Wright.

Today the company deals with a wide variety of sports, and the need for exposure is still pressing. "Other than men's football and basketball, most sports aren't highly visible," says Wright. "Only 1 to 2 percent of high school athletes get all the notoriety and recruiting, yet every year there are 350,000 opportunities to participate in the 28-plus sports offered at the collegiate level. Although several millions of dollars are spent on recruiting athletes each year for colleges and universities, it's not nearly enough to cover the budgets needed to properly recruit athletes for all the available programs out there."

Collegiate Sports of America franchisees recruit eligible students; the main office then matches those students with schools in their database. It also puts the athletes on its Web site, which is accessed by college and university coaches nationwide.

According to Wright, many franchisees get a sense of fulfillment by helping kids pursue sports at the college level. "It's very satisfying to have a kid call and tell you he or she has just gotten a sports scholarship to a university," he says. "Not only have you helped the child get to the next sports level, you've also saved the family a lot of money."

Gary Conover and his wife, Donna, bought a Collegiate Sports of America franchise in October 1999. They've been building the business in Northern California and have generated $40,000 in sales since then. "I'd been looking for something like this," says Conover, who played sports in high school and college and coached high school football.

Conover became interested in the recruiting services the company had to offer when he saw many kids with sports talent and excellent academic records being passed over. "It was obvious kids and their parents had no idea how to get in contact with coaches," he says. "Collegiate Sport's database creates a link with 2,000 four-year schools across the country. The franchisees produce the players, and Collegiate Sports has the contacts. The key word for these kids is 'exposure', and that's what this program provides."

Since starting the business, Conover has helped produce many happy high school athletes. "One young woman golfer came into the program with no offers and soon had more than 40 to choose from," he says. "The best part is, I'm helping give these kids options-and I'm getting paid to do it."