How LeagueSide Found Big-Time Opportunities in Small-Town Sports

The founders of this startup took their passion for sports and filtered it into a successful niche business helping youth athletic teams.

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By Andrew Yang • Dec 12, 2015 Originally published Dec 12, 2015

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Evan Brandoff grew up a sports fanatic. He played sports all the time. He decided at an early age to pursue a career in sports. He had a radio show on Long Island called ""Sports Heaven with Mark and Evan," the best damn radio show the Internet could handle. He went to the University of Texas partially to experience the Big 12 sports atmosphere.

After graduation, he joined Venture for America (VFA) and moved to Detroit, where he worked at a media startup, Benzinga, and sold advertising to big companies.

One weekend Evan volunteered at a basketball tournament in inner city Detroit. He saw a couple of local companies with small tables at the event. It occurred to him that the companies he sold advertising to were always trying to tie their brands to things that people cared about most. They were trying to cut through the clutter and reach people.

What do people care about? They care about sports. And they care about their kids.

Related: How One Major League Baseball Team Is Going to Bat with Rookie Sports Businesses

Last year, Evan teamed up with another VFA Fellow, Zubin Teherani, to start LeagueSide. They offer a platform through which companies can sponsor local youth sports leagues in the most intimate of ways -- from logos on kids' jerseys to tables at games and sweepstakes. Companies can pick from any of 2,500-plus youth sports leagues across 45 states. Big clients already include Applebee's, Smoothie King and Columbia Sportswear with more on the way. With LeagueSide, companies can reach excited families while battling the rising costs of youth sports.

There are lessons for entrepreneurs in what LeagueSide is building.

1. Look for opportunities where two parties are separated by administrative barriers.

If you can cut through the red tape and connect them, you can create a lot of value. In this case, Evan and Zubin spent months enlisting youth sports leagues from across the country and packaging sponsorships to make it easier for big companies to adopt campaigns and measure results.

Related: 7 Steps to Defining Your Niche Market

2. Small opportunities can add up in the aggregate.

One reason why this market was ignored for so long is that it's so fragmented. There are 100,000-plus youth sports leagues across the country with small opportunities for any given league. But if you add up all of the leagues across the country, it's a significant market.

3. Learn from the mistakes of others and pick a niche.

Many other companies have struggled with local advertising. AOL lost hundreds of millions on its Patch network of local community sites, and Groupon is downsizing furiously. Local is a tough nut to crack. LeagueSide found willing partners in local sports leagues that could use additional funding and have deep ties to the community. Their defined niche allowed them to focus on building the right relationships.

4. Work on something you care about.

Says Evan, "It's pretty phenomenal getting to work every day on getting more money to local youth sports. These leagues typically don't have much money, and sponsorship dollars make a huge difference in the affordability for the kids and their families. I know firsthand how youth sports can change your life. And our clients are getting in front of the people they want to in a new and exciting way."

It's not the career in sports that Evan imagined, but it might be even better.

Related: 5 Ways Niche Brands Can Build a Massive Community

Andrew Yang

Founder & CEO of Venture for America and Author

Andrew Yang is the founder and CEO of Venture for America, a New York City-based nonprofit organization focused on placing top-college graduates in startups for two years in emerging U.S. cities to generate job growth and train the next generation of entrepreneurs. He is also the author of Smart People Should Build Things.

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