i9 Sports franchise review: Joey Holibaugh of Akron, Ohio

i9 Sports franchise review: Joey Holibaugh of Akron, Ohio

A career in corporate America was very good to him, but ultimately Joey Holibaugh decided to follow his passion and work with kids in youth sports.


Joey Holibaugh and his wife, Tiffany, were attending a liturgical supply trade show in Orlando, Florida, on behalf of their pastor when one of the keynote speakers said something that really resonated with Joey: “He was talking about climbing the corporate ladder and it really struck me. He said, ‘You spend your entire career climbing a corporate ladder and one day you realize that the ladder that you’ve been climbing is not leaning on your house, it’s leaning on somebody else’s house.’” He and Tiffany looked at each other. Joey wasn’t dissatisfied with his long career in telecom, but he realized at that moment “I wanted to move my ladder to my own thing.” Joey shares his journey in this i9 Sports franchise review.

Where are your territories located?
I am in Northeast Ohio and I have two territories that butt up against each other. One of the territories is predominantly in the Akron-Canton area, and the other territory is in the Northern Summit County-Northern Akron area and Cuyahoga County, which is Southern Cleveland.

When did you become an i9 Sports franchisee?
May 2019.

What were you doing before then?
I am in telecom. I’ve been in telecom since 1993.

How did you learn about i9 Sports?
My kids were playing with i9 Sports and I was one of the volunteer coaches. I received an email from one of their folks that there was an opportunity in Northeast Ohio. I was curious because that’s my hometown.

What made you say, “Hey, this would be a great thing to do with my career.”?
We are involved in our church and the pastor asked me to go to this Christian trade show with him to Orlando, Florida… that keynote speaker really summarized what I’d been thinking about. Not that I was having a bad experience or not that I was not grateful for my career or anything like that. It’s a matter of, what have I been really chasing after? If I’m going to put that kind of effort in, I want it to be for something I believe in, for my vision and my goals. Having five kids, I’ve always been around youth sports and it always has excited me. So knowing that I wanted to move my ladder to my own thing and knowing that youth sports was something that always excited me, it seemed like the stars were somewhat aligning.

Did you plan to start out with two territories?
I wanted to start out with one, but based on my experience and my career, I’ve always managed larger territories and I saw myself being very familiar with markets that i9 Sports was not in yet. I was having candid conversations with i9 Sports that I could see myself at some point expanding into multiple markets. It just happened sooner than we all thought.

Okay, and what about i9 Sports sealed the deal for you?
Working with kids. I mean having five kids, it seems like I could have run my own league with the amount of kids that are in my front yard anyway.


Are all five of your kids involved in sports?
At one time or another. My girls are a little older now. I have two that are pretty much done with sports. My youngest daughter is a junior in high school, and my boys are in elementary school. We run a spread offense over here.

What are some of the valuable things that HQ does to support you as a franchisee?
A lot of the data they provide is helpful and the technology for sure. It definitely helps me to plan better. I try to get out in front of things, and the less I have to do as far as research, because they’re providing that, the more prepared I am.

What does your typical day look like?
I start off every day looking at the data. How did yesterday look? What new came in today? We get new leads every single day and we want to definitely follow up with them. Every single day, you want to start with your new business, new emails, new issues, new leads. Always start with that first thing in the morning. And then from that moment you follow your plan, which consists of a portion of strategizing, a portion of marketing, a portion of relationship management, a portion of recruiting new employees, a portion of polishing your coaches and a portion of interviewing. 

What does your staff and management structure look like with your two territories?
I have a senior program director — her name is Amanda and she pretty much is my operations guru. She runs the entire operation, and then for game day she manages one territory. I have another program director who manages my other territory. And then for marketing they kind of split it. Underneath them we have site managers, and underneath the site managers we have our sports coordinators. And depending on the size of the venue, we might have a sports coordinator help with two sports rather than just one. And then underneath them obviously we have our referees.

We have about 18 people. Right now only the program directors are full-time.

What’s your interaction like with other franchisees? Do you find a lot of support from your fellow franchise owners?
 Absolutely, I go to breakfast once a month with the Columbus team, which is three ADs (Area Developer). There’s only one other AD other than me in my own market, and he has a partner.. I do a lot of note taking and asking questions.

Is there anything else you can think of that you would want a prospective buyer to know about i9 Sports?
If you’re getting into this as a job replacement, this is not for you. You cannot quit your job and step into this as a job replacement. If you’ve got a retirement package or an early retirement or you just got bought out and you’ve got some money, then I would say i9 Sports is a fantastic choice. You do need to be full-time to make i9 Sports work.

Is your wife involved in the business at all or does she work full time?
She’s our business manager full-time for i9 Sports.

Have you had an aha moment where you just knew you’d made the right decision to invest in i9 Sports?
I would say that every time I’m on the field or working with the kids or the parents, I get a constant reinforcement that no matter what challenges I might be facing throughout the week, I get that instant gratification that I made the right choice because I get to work with these kids. So no matter what I deal with Monday through Friday, the weekends are always rewarding.

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