Franchisee invests in i9 Sports franchise and creates a family legacy business
Dan Jacobson bought his i9 Sports franchise in Portland, Oregon, in 2015 and opened for his first season in the spring of 2016. Finding employees wasn’t hard — his son-in-law, Brandon Harper, was his first full-time employee. Which is fitting because it’s Dan’s hope that Brandon and his daughter, Kate, will take over as owners of the family business someday and maybe even pass it down to the next generation. In this i9 Sports franchise review, Dan talks about why he chose i9 Sports — and what’s in it for him.
What were you doing before you became a franchisee?
Well, I’m still doing it. I’ve been a CFO for a large privately held business, Metro Metals — we’re a big scrap metal recycling company in Portland, Oregon — for 27 years. So, I’m still doing that. My i9 Sports ownership is, I guess, more of an investment than a job.
How do you manage that with a full-time job?
I hired my son-in-law, Brandon Harper. He became my first full-time employee on Day One. And then my daughter, Kate, works about half-time. They have four kids, so it was really to buy a business for them to operate as a family business.
Had you ever been involved in sports before?
My involvement in sports was life-changing, which is why I want to do this. From a standpoint of, I was a first-time college attendee out of both sides of my family, and it was because of sports.
What did you play?
I played everything. I played football, baseball, basketball in high school. I was recruited to play college football and ended up just focusing on college baseball.
How did you learn about i9 Sports?
My daughter and son-in-law signed up my then 3-year-old grandson to play and my son-in-law was working in retail and couldn’t get weekends off, so there was no way he could coach. He asked if I would coach and I did and loved it, and that’s how I met the program.
When did you decide that you wanted to invest in i9 Sports?
My son-in-law and I had conversations well before that about us being perfect business partners at some point because he had come out of the retail management program — Safeway, Office Depot, Big Lots, so big retail management training — and I have a law background and accounting background. We’d always kind of talked about it and then this fell into our lap and we decided this would be perfect.
Did you ever look at any other youth sports franchises?
No. I’d always just given back through my coaching and being on boards and running youth sports organizations as my kids grew up, but I wasn’t even aware of the business opportunities.
You mentioned this is an investment for you and for your son-in-law and your daughter; it’s a business that can run as a family. Are they still holding down other jobs as well or are they doing this full-time?
They’re doing this full-time at this point because we just bought our third franchise today, which is very exciting. The second franchise I bought was an existing one and it came with a very great program director, who I kept and brought on full-time. My daughter does marketing for all of the franchises. My son-in-law really focuses on the one, but now he’s going to start helping me grow the third one as well.
Do you plan to retire someday and maybe sell the business to your son-in-law and daughter?
Yeah, that’s kind of the plan. I mean, I don’t look at real retirement. I’ll probably run this for another decade at least, and we hope to grow, but then at some point I’ll transition it onto the next generation and hopefully my grandkids will maybe want to get involved when they’re in their 20s.
What makes i9 Sports stand out among all the other youth sports options from the consumer standpoint?
I think it’s the opportunity to sample different sports, which obviously I wanted to when I was a kid. I couldn’t even decide until I got to college which one was my favorite. That opportunity is tremendous for children, to not focus on one sport too early but to try different sports. Having been involved in more traditional youth sports for two decades, running programs in my kid’s school, I now realized how inefficient and unproductive we all were — we just worried about our own kid and then we moved on. Now, to have a business that really has the families’ and the kids’ best interests at heart, I realize that’s the best way to create a great experience for the kids.
What do you personally find most rewarding about being with i9 Sports?
For me, it’s just watching the results of the different buttons that we push as business owners. I mean, one of the things that sold me on the company was their back office and the way that they measure everything. You can log in every day and see how your efforts are paying off in terms of marketing or registrations and revenue, and I love watching the growth and trying different things to overcome whatever obstacles might be in our way.
What kind of support can you count on from corporate headquarters?
The business coaching is tremendous. I don’t rely on it a lot because of my business background, but early on it was very useful in just asking the questions: What have other people done? How did they get out of the gate? I tell people that good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment. So, I would rather learn from other people’s mistakes and other people’s trials and tribulations than go through it myself.
Do any particular stories stand out to you when you think about the impact that i9 Sports has on kids?
Yes. Our first territory we opened was Gresham, and it’s a lower socioeconomic area. It’s one that, as we’ve opened up the more affluent ones, it would be easy for us to kind of walk away and say “Let’s just move our resources someplace else.” But neither Brandon nor I will do that because we have a greater ability to impact lives there. We got an email one day, it was after opening day, and this mom wrote what her son did. He was four, and he played his first ever sports game and she walked in and he wasn’t asleep and she goes, “Why aren’t you sleeping?” And he said, “I can’t go to sleep, I just want to go play i9 Sports again. This was the best day of my life.”
She took the time to send us that note, and it just brought tears to my eyes. That’s why we do this.