Franchisee found more time with family, more control over her future and a more emotionally rewarding career with i9 Sports ownership
Having no background in personal sports herself was never an obstacle for Alli Hall, who owns an i9 Sports franchise with her husband, Greg. They have locations in Kissimmee, Clermont and Davenport, Florida. Alli had experience as a sports mom, with her son Lucas, now 8, who was in a baseball league. She found that experience very frustrating due to a lack of communication, coach no-shows and disorganization. So, when she and her husband learned about i9 Sports, they enrolled Lucas. After several seasons and loving it, they began to explore the idea of buying an i9 Sports franchise.
With Alli’s background in marketing and event planning and Greg’s background in sports and athletic training, it seemed like the perfect fit. Three-plus years later and nine seasons in, Alli, who works in the business full time, and Greg, who continues working full-time and contributes to the business part-time, couldn’t imagine life any other way. “Being in control of my future and my family is very rewarding,” says Alli. And, “it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.” She shares the rest of her story in this i9 Sports franchise review.
Where is your franchise located?
Our territory encompasses Clermont, Davenport and Kissimmee, Florida. It’s about a hundred square miles. Our locations are all pretty-evenly spaced geographically. For the current Winter 2020 season, we have three venues within our territory. The Spring 2020 will bring our fourth venue online, with plans for additional venues to be added in the future.
How long have you been in business with i9 Sports?
We closed on our franchise on March 17, 2017, and our first season was the Fall 2017 season.
What were you doing before that?
I worked in hospitality/event planning and my husband, Greg, still works full-time in the medical industry managing physician offices. Previously Greg worked as an athletic trainer for the Atlanta Braves organization. Greg is very familiar with sports and I have experience with customer service, and marketing. It was a good fit for us because we can both contribute something to the business.
Had you been looking for a career change? What prompted you to jump into franchise ownership?
Initially no, we were not looking for a career change but had always discussed owning our own business “at some point” in the distant future. The franchise purchase came about quicker than we anticipated, but when you find an organization with a solid business plan and the support of a franchise network, we felt it warranted the time and research to see if a business purchase was something we wanted to proceed with.
After meeting with the home office team and seeing how other i9 Sports franchises were run and speaking with those franchise owners, we knew this was our opportunity to build a business that could support our family and community.
So, you found out about the territory and approached the owner and bought it?
The way it all shook out, we weren’t actively seeking franchise ownership, but it really has been the best thing for our family. It worked out that the previous franchise owner was looking to sell and we were ready to jump in after learning about i9 Sports. I really wouldn’t have my life any other way now.
Did you grow up playing sports?
I was a swimmer and water polo player, and my husband Greg played football. Greg is definitely more in-tune with the specific rules of each sport and the intricacies of each sport. I am more inclined to handle the communication of the business, as I love working with people.
I enjoy planning and organizing, and this business requires all of these components to work together to be successful. A big part of what we do is communicating with parents and ensuring a safe environment for the kids.
You mentioned you have a son, Lucas. Do you have other children who are involved in sports?
Lucas is 8 and he plays all sports with us — basketball, flag football, soccer, baseball, and he’s trying volleyball this season. And I have a 4-year-old daughter, Rory, who’s been playing soccer for the past year. As soon as she turned 3 she started playing soccer with us.
How do you and your husband divide up the roles of running your franchise?
We’re both very much involved in Game Day operations with three venues. We have two Saturday venues right now and one Sunday venue. He goes to our venue in Groveland, I go to our venue in Kissimmee. On Sundays we’re both at our Four Corners venue. What typically ends up happening is I’m at the tent, along with our staff and interns, greeting the families, checking them in, making sure we know where everybody’s going. Greg is on the field with our coordinator. He’ll step in as a ref or a coach if needed.
In terms of Monday through Friday business, the majority of the business is managed by me. All of the marketing, social media, business flyers, road signs, vendor meetings, etc., are handled by me. In addition to his work on the weekends with i9 Sports, Greg manages the business finances.
With a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old who would be playing sports anyway, it sounds like you might actually have more family togetherness than you would think for somebody who works their business on the weekends.
Owning an i9 Sports franchise has lent itself to having a flexible lifestyle. I’ve done the Monday through Friday, 8 to 5 corporate job for a long time, and it’s very difficult to be a working parent and to drop your kids off and have them in daycare all the time and then aftercare. So, it’s been really nice to be around my kids and be able to take them to events and be more present every day. I think it’s so beneficial for our kids to see us working hard to support our family.
It’s a family-friendly business. If I’m ever in a bind and I need to bring my kids to a marketing event, they’re always family-friendly events, local festivals where we would be promoting children’s activities. It takes off that pressure of always having to find childcare because my business really is centered around kids and families. It’s been wonderful.
How large would you like to grow your franchise?
We would like to expand. We have a lot of room to grow within our existing territory, but we’re all about making smart moves. We’re really wanting to fine tune and make the right moves in our current territory and then expand from there. But we’ve discussed purchasing another territory down the line. We have worked hard to grow our franchise and will continue to do so progressively.
What kind of support network do you find with other i9 Sports franchisees? Do you interact with them a lot?
We have a very good network of area developers around Central Florida. We lean on each other when needed for advice or marketing. We participate in some joint events throughout the year, such as the Central Florida Kid’s & Family Expo at the Orange County Convention Center. We take full advantage of the i9 Sports network Facebook page, where all the local franchise owners can talk to each other and bounce ideas off each other.
What about support from corporate headquarters?
The home office helped us a lot when it came to identifying areas within our territory that would be a good location to setup an i9 Sports venue. Our business coach was very helpful in terms of site selection.
There’s a lot that comes up when you deal with that many parents, even if you’re doing your best to run a business. Parents are tough critics, so it took me a little while to navigate the ropes there. But leaning on my business coach as a support network to say, “Hey, I have this situation. Here’s what happened. How should I deal with this?” or, “I had my very first injury at the field. What do I do?” There’s a lot of things that you just can’t predict that can happen on game day and the home office is a great resource to know you have for assistance / questions etc.
What is the most rewarding thing about owning an i9 Sports franchise?
I think the personal satisfaction of owning my own business and being in control of my future, and supporting my family is the most rewarding factor. It is also as equally rewarding to be on the field, especially on closing day of a season. It’s awesome to see the kids with their trophies and medals, getting high-fives from the coaches and seeing how proud they are. Some of these kids who have never played sports before, they’re super-shy on opening day and by the end of the seven weeks they are beaming.
They are excited, they are running out on the field, they have no qualms about it whatsoever. They’ve made friends, the parents have congregated on the sidelines together. They become friends. It really is an incredible service to the community. Now that we’ve been in business for three years, I’ve had some kids play with me every single season since we’ve opened. I’ve seen them grow up and seen their skills improve. It’s so rewarding to see them grow and come into their own as well.
Is there anything else that you think a prospective buyer should know?
The biggest thing for us is just the differentiation of i9 Sports compared to other sports leagues. During the discovery phase when we were exploring this opportunity and they asked us to look at our competitors in the area, I didn’t really see any other organization doing what we do. Yes, there are other recreational leagues, but we are so different from what they do. There’s nothing quite like i9 Sports out there. I think it’s really important that prospective franchisees do their research. Owning my own business is definitely far more difficult than I ever anticipated it being. But I say that because it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.