Youth Sports Business Is a Perfect Fit For This Family | i9 Sports®
Husband-and-wife duo introduced a needed alternative to overly competitive travel leagues in the Madison, WI, market
For Michael and Rachel DuPont, “balance” has been a key theme of their success in the youth sports business. Work-life balance has made the business more satisfying. By working as a team, Michael and Rachel balance and complement each other’s strengths to make the business work even better. And in the Madison, WI, market, they’ve brought balance to a community that needed a positive alternative to overly competitive travel leagues.
Learn why the i9 Sports opportunity appealed so strongly to this husband-and-wife team.
What did you do before opening your i9 Sports franchise?
Michael: I was in technology sales for almost 20 years. Rachel and I met at the same software company in Denver, Colorado. We had wanted to start our own business for a long time, and a good friend of mine, Mike Scantzoulis, owns an i9 Sports franchise down in South Florida. Rachel and I looked at the opportunity for about three years before we signed the contracts and moved to Madison. We looked at it from top to bottom and loved everything about it, from the technology they utilize to the values they stand for.
What was it that finally got you to decide to open the business?
Michael: We wanted to make sure we were ready. We were living in Colorado, which has i9 Sports locations everywhere, and we wanted to start our own territory. Rachel is from Waunakee, a growing suburb of Madison.
Madison is a great area! There are many competitive sports leagues here, and we bring balance to that through zero tolerance for negative coaches and parents and by focusing on a positive experience for the kids. It just made sense for us to come up here to start our i9 Sports franchise.
Since you both work in the business, how do you split responsibilities?
Michael: I handle day-to-day operations. We typically work from home, so we’re with each other all the time and we like working together. I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else. It’s a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. We balance each other well, because her strong suits and my strong suits are different.
Rachel: I also have a full-time job in international logistics, moving people around the world. I help with the franchise on the weekends and at night, doing logistics, business development, partnerships, marketing events and site management. It takes a lot of time management to balance it all.
What would you say you enjoy most about being i9 Sports franchise owners?
Michael: I enjoy every aspect of the youth sports business, especially the work-life balance and the opportunity to help kids have a great time while improving their skills. It’s rewarding to know we’re out there doing it the right way, making sure kids learn the fundamentals of the sports they’re playing.
Rachel: I really enjoy the sense of community and the knowledge that we have a positive impact on kids’ lives.
How involved are you on the game days?
Rachel: We’re heavily involved during the game days as site managers, and those days start early. We arrive at the field by 6:30 and start setting up, then the rest of the staff arrives. We talk to them and get them pumped up for the day, then all the practices and games get going for each age division and sport.
Michael: We typically start with the youngest kids first on Saturday mornings – they go out at 8:30. Then we go through our day until the oldest age groups play at around 1 in the afternoon.
How do you market the business and get the word out about what you offer?
Rachel: We have found success in working with elementary schools, parent-teacher organizations and non-profit organizations to get our name out in the community. For example, in Wisconsin June is Dairy Month, so we’re heavily involved in many marketing events that a lot of families will attend. Social media has become a good source of information for people as well.
Michael: There’s something going on every weekend in the spring, summer and fall so we try to be at many different events to ramp up our marketing. Road signs and flyers are also a major part of building awareness.
What attracts people to your offerings, compared to the competition in your market?
Michael: Parents like the fact that we offer a one-day-a-week program. We’re designed for families that don’t have time for three practices during the week and then traveling for games all over Wisconsin. Families are very busy.
The other thing they love about us is the zero tolerance for negative coaches and parents. We don’t tolerate parents yelling from the sidelines at the kids, at the refs, at the volunteer coaches, at other parents. Parents really appreciate that – they’ve seen the ugly side of youth sports and they like that we’re a refreshing new approach to youth sports around Madison.
What kind of person do you think it takes to succeed in this business?
Rachel: It takes someone who’s very persistent, especially in a new market. As we continue to grow, we’re also making sure to balance working more on the business rather than in the business.
Michael: You have to have an entrepreneurial spirit to do this type of work. It’s very rewarding, but it is hard work. In a new market, you’re creating something new and teaching people all about i9 Sports. It’s not for somebody that’s looking for a 9-to-5, punch-in, punch-out type of job. It is truly your business. There is a nice work-life balance, but you will work pretty hard.
What do you think somebody exploring this opportunity should know about the youth sports business?
Rachel: I would say to expect a ride. There are certainly ups and downs – there’s a lot of hard work but it’s very rewarding. Being patient and persistent is critical, especially when you’re starting out.
Michael: Even though we’re a one-day-a-week youth sports league, it is a full-time job. If you don’t approach it like that, you’re not going to succeed. You’ve got to give it all you have and be prepared for that. It’s a business and it’s hard work, but it’s rewarding work.
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