When he first heard about i9 Sports, Chris Dietrich was really skeptical. While a college student at The Ohio State University, Dietrich worked as a sports official for the on-campus Buckeye Officials Association, and one day he was assigned to referee an i9 Sports flag football game for a local program. From his old school, competitive perspective, the i9 Sports Experience sounded a little too easygoing for his style.
“I didn’t want to do it, but on my first day, I was blown away by how positive everything was. Former NFL linebacker and Ohio State great had his kids out there playing, and everyone was having so much fun,” Dietrich said.
He continued officiating for the i9 Sports games, striking up a relationship with the local owner, Steve Cox. Dietrich never could have predicted from that first game that in less than 10 years, he would own and operate his own children’s sports franchise with i9 Sports.
The first hints at a youth sports business plan
The year after that first game, in 2008, Dietrich graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Integrated Social Studies and soon accepted a full-time position working for Cox. Though he had fun working with i9 Sports, Dietrich said he took the job primarily because it was a good opportunity in a bad job market.
One year into his job with Cox, the i9 Sports corporate office called Dietrich and offered him a position running a company-owned territory in Portland, Ore. Again, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up, so Dietrich moved to the Pacific Northwest and ran that location for a year, with good results. Shortly after, the company then brought him to the corporate office in Tampa, Fla., to run local programs for the next two years using the i9 Sports youth sports business plan.
So, why was i9 Sports committed to hold onto a young professional right out of college? Dietrich thinks he knows the answer.
“I’m certainly not the smartest or the most experienced, but you’ll have a hard time finding someone who will outwork me,” he said. “Steve hired me for the first time, not because I was a stellar official, but because I was the first one there and the last one leaving. My hard work has offered me opportunities.”
Taking the plunge into a children’s franchise opportunity with i9 Sports
His most recent opportunity, as owner of an i9 Sports franchise in North Seattle, Wash., started on a fateful rainy night in Florida. It was the annual i9 Sports national convention in Clearwater. The first day had gone great, but was capped off by a 3 a.m. fire alarm at the hotel where all the i9 Sports franchisees and corporate staff were staying. As everyone was evacuated into the Florida night, Dietrich struck up a conversation with i9 Sports founder Frank Fiume. While they waited out the situation, Fiume told Dietrich about a young franchise owner who barely had enough capital to get started but was doing quite well despite it.
Dietrich thought if that young guy could start his own business with help from i9 Sports, then maybe he could too. After that night, Dietrich set his sights on franchise ownership and reached that goal in January 2016 with this children’s franchise opportunity.
Talking to him, you’d never know that failure was even an option. Though he grew up without a lot of resources, Dietrich said he’d never let his name be associated with failure. His upbringing gave him a sense of tenacity and ingenuity.
“We didn’t have a lot growing up, but we learned how to be resourceful,” he said. “Given where I started from, the idea of owning a business was never something I had considered was possible. I tried to take advantage of the opportunities I’ve had.”
The reality of starting a sports league business
Now Dietrich’s programs afford opportunities to young athletes looking for an alternative to hyper-competitive sports leagues. His programs offer flag football, soccer and T-ball to more than 1,200 young athletes at five venues. Flag football is the most popular offering right now, but soccer is quickly closing the gap.
Though he is a naturally competitive person, Dietrich understands that not every kid is — and that competition isn’t the priority for children. He likes that i9 Sports promotes a positive game experience and gives every player game time.
“I think we have a wonderful opportunity to instill a passion for playing sports,” he said. “Every kid should be given the opportunity to love the game and play the game.”
Dietrich volunteers weekly with a local Lego Robotics Team for kids 6 to 10 years old at the local Boys and Girls Club. He also serves on the Snohomish County Sports Commission, a subsidiary of the local travel commission dedicated to bringing sports tourism to the area.
Now that he has been working with i9 Sports for nearly 10 years, Dietrich enjoys offering advice to other newer franchisees looking to start a sports league business and, yes, competing to get to the top of the National Scorecard, i9 Sports’ franchise success ranking. He loves to offer ideas on how to improve systems and communications.
“I’m always offering suggestions and input because it’s important that we work together as a network to always improve. But I’m also someone who cares deeply about the i9 Sports brand as a whole,” Dietrich said.
It’s time to make your own youth sports business plan
Learn more about how the journey toward the i9 Sports children’s franchise opportunity. And contact us to get the process started!