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Innovation

Through New Company, Former MLB Pitcher Hopes to Change Baseball

Michael Schwimer invests in minor leaguers, banking on their careers, and looks to predictive analytics for Big League Advance’s future.

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Minor League Baseball

Michael Schwimer is hoping to change the way Minor League Baseball operates, by investing directly into players.

Schwimer’s idea for his company, Big League Advance, comes directly from his experiences in baseball, playing two seasons in the Major Leagues and three in the minors, where he saw the realities of the hard life and low pay.

“The idea came from seeing my friends, the vast majority trying to live their dream and for whatever reason not making it,” Schwimer said. “It’s heartbreaking to see. People are trying to live their American dream, but 90 percent don’t play a day in the majors and when it doesn’t work out, they see their lives completely change.”

SEE MORE: How You Can Build Your Personal Brand Through Social Media 

Schwimer said most minor leaguers aren’t paid enough to live comfortably or set themselves up for their future. He even had to work second jobs during the offseason — now wishing Uber existed then — to make sure he’d be able to survive the season. Once in the majors, Schwimer said he came to understand the business and why minor leaguers are paid so little. Still not believing it was right and his career effectively ended by an injury, Schwimer set out to change it.

He found partners and investors, including Paul DePodesta, to enable Big League Advance to invest in minor leaguers who meet a baseline of metrics to predict major league success.

“We’re basically de-risking their career while simultaneously helping reach their goal,” he said.

The players can use the money — from $100,000 to $4 million — to advance their careers and use it for training, nutrition or even basic living expenses to ease stressors outside the game. In return, should the players make the majors, Big League Advance gets a return from the major league salaries, between 1 and 10 percent, much like an agent.

SEE MORE: Why Scoring a Career in Minor League Baseball is Anything but Minor 

If a player fails to make the majors, they don’t owe anything back. One player even retired after his investment, a decision Schwimer said he understood and respected. Most players who accept do so because they believe the investment will make them the percentage they’ll owe, or more, back.

“It’s worth the risk if you have a large enough fund and large enough sample size,” he said.

Big League Advance has offered hundreds of players, and it’s all based on when they hit the specific metrics. The timeframe varies widely and can be as early as Short Season-A ball or into Double or Triple-A. It’s not a no-brainer for players, however, and nearly 70 percent have declined the money. About half of those players eventually come back, Schwimer said, but the offer is off the table by then.

The company isn’t yet profitable; it’ll take at least six years to be earning mass revenues from the investments in minor leaguers, but Schwimer has hopes it will change the way professional baseball operates. In addition, he hopes minor leaguers are eventually paid more and offered proper housing and nutrition amenities.

While Big League Advance will continue its minor league investment operation for the foreseeable future, the potential of the company lies far beyond.

While the basis of the company and its investments are predictive analytics, Schwimer has assembled a team of 20 of the “smartest” predictive analysts in sports, led by Jason Rosenfeld. Big League Advance already has fielded multi-million dollar offers from an NBA team and two soccer federations.

“I don’t know yet how we monetize it, but we’re looking into a lot of things,” Schwimer said. “People are catching on to this. Mark Cuban hired a professional gambler. If you’re the best NBA bettor, you’re the best at predicting, you know what’s important in a win and maybe you can reverse engineer it.

“Owners are thinking outside the box, and maybe we can put together a team to capitalize on it.”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. HIs second book, Nevada Beer, comes out in December 2018. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesprt.com.

Innovation

ISlide Thrives Off Self-Expression Five Years After Launch

International superstars such as LeBron James, DJ Khaled, Conor McGregor, and others have turned to ISlide for comfort and a customized experience.

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After 13 years in the athletic apparel industry that included a stint as the head of Reebok basketball, Justin Kittredge founded footwear company ISlide in 2013. ISlide sells sandals decked out with designs licensed by the NBA, NCAA, Nickelodeon, esports organizations, and others. The main selling point of iSlide, however, is that customers have the option to create a pair of custom sandals all their own using the creation tools on ISlideusa.com.  

Each year since the founding of ISlide in 2013, the company has more than doubled its revenue. Several NBA players such as Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas collaborated with the company and now have their own designs available for purchase on the site. The company’s sandals have even been regularly seen on the feet of international superstars like LeBron James, DJ Khaled, Conor McGregor, Ellen DeGeneres, Diddy, Dwyane Wade, and Justin Bieber.

For reasons like this, Kittredge expects the company to keep growing at this pace.

READ MORE: 3 Ways to Hone Your Skills for Your Sports Business Career 

“We’re living in a time now that people love customization,” Kittredge said. “Our tagline is ‘stand in what you stand for.’ So I think people love to be able to stand for something, and for the first time we’ve kind of given them the opportunity to be able to do it with a really comfortable pair of slides. When you combine that with the growing trend of slides as a whole, I think we’re able to really capitalize on what’s what’s happening in the world right now.”

During 2017’s eighth season of “Shark Tank,” Kittredge ultimately turned down an investment from Robert Herjavec. Kittredge’s boldness has paid off, however, as the footwear company recently signed retail deals with Neiman Marcus, LIDS, Fanatics and Urban Outfitters. Kittredge and the company have also brought in several new investors, including Evan Turner, a small forward for the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers.

Turner has reportedly been a big fan of the company since its launch and even has a small collection of sandals he has purchased from the company over the years. Kittredge believes that Turner and other athletes are drawn to his company for the opportunity to showcase their creativity in their style.

“Evan’s a pretty creative guy. So, I think that was one element that he loved,” Kittredge said. “He loved the fact that we sent him a really cool custom design. After he got that, I think his mind started to spin where he saw the possibilities of what could be created for it. So, I think that’s what really drew him in. He’s been a big fan of us for a while, and then once we decided to open up a round of investment, it was kind of a perfect match.”

“I’ve always admired the creativity and hustle of the ISlide team,” said Turner. “I love the quality of their slides and the message of self-expression behind them.”

As far as what’s next for the company, Kittredge has no plans of slowing down and will likely continue partnering with more great brands and personalities in the future.

READ MORE: Whistle Sports Look to Long-Form Content for More Opportunities

“We’re definitely going to be increasing our licensing portfolio,” Kittredge added. “I think our product kind of leads really well into that world of licensing. Then we just plan on growing our partnerships.

“For us, there’s there’s no reason why someone wouldn’t want to wear a pair of ISlides because instead of trying to promote a brand that they’re not that affiliated with, they can promote something that’s really close to them with our customization options. I think that’s why we’re going to have a pretty successful future, because we’re able to capitalize on that.”

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Innovation

Championship Horse Racing Set to Introduce ‘The Series’ in 2019

The company is bringing a team and league model to horse racing, aiming to enhance sponsorship and fan engagement opportunities.

Chris Daley

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In July 2019, Championship Horse Racing (CHR) will be looking to disrupt the sport when it debuts “The Series” in Great Britain. “The Series” will present flat racing, as it is known in the UK, in a team-based, season-like format which CHR feels will modernize the sport and breathe new energy into it on a global level.

Great Britain’s history of racing dates back centuries, and flat racing continues to be one of the country’s largest spectator sports.  Prestigious international meets like Royal Ascot have continued growing their global appeal recently, and specifically with an American audience. In November, NBC Sports Group announced a six-year contract extension with Ascot Racecourse, granting the company United States media rights until 2025 and expanding coverage of Royal Ascot.

CHR respects the status and appeal of meets like Royal Ascot, but wants to distance itself from some of the perceptions that horse racing sometimes has among people inside and outside the sport. They do not want “The Series” to bring a feel that horse racing is only for the elite, that it is solely focused on gambling, or that the sport is too complicated for fans to follow.

‘The Series’ Format

“The Series” will feature 12 teams, each having a roster of 30 horses conditioned under one or more trainers. Each team will also have four dedicated jockeys. The horses will compete in eight fixtures or six races each, taking place on consecutive Thursday evenings from July to September. Each race will include 12 runners representing each of the 12 teams.

CHR announced its eight scheduled venues for “The Series,” which includes top racecourses in England, Ireland and Scotland. The branded teams will compete in 48 races with more than £100k of prize money per race.

READ MORE: Churchill Downs and the Breeders’ Cup Maximize Fan Experience 

Most horses racing around the globe fall into the handicap category, meaning their talent is not on the level of Graded Stakes or Group class. “The Series” races will all be handicaps to even out the competition, and giving owners a chance to earn more prize money with their horses in relation to those with horses competing at the Graded Stakes and/or Group level.

A points system similar to Formula 1 will be utilized to determine prize money winners on individual racing days, as well as “The Series” championships at the end of the season. Various prizes will be awarded to racing teams, as well as jockeys.

Sponsorship and Fan Engagement

With this new format, CHR believes “The Series” will provide sponsorship opportunities unlike others currently available in horse racing. The company’s goal is to have each racing team sponsored and become international brands. They are also seeking a title sponsor for “The Series.”

“We are looking at a range of sponsors across key categories such as automotive, airline, telco, as well as key brands from within racing,” said Oli Harris, CMO for CHR. “Sponsorships and racing teams will all be focused on enhancing the fan experience during ‘The Series.’”

Team sponsorships will bring opportunities to create fanfare at each event. “Our aim is to make sure that the fans have the best possible opportunities to benefit from our sponsors. The aim is to engage fans and brands on and off the racecourse,” Harris added.

The teams will have dedicated areas for their horses, along with equipment and branded apparel worn by the jockeys, trainers, and other stable staffers. “Each team will have its own space on the infield where they can entertain fans and run activations. I feel it’s a chance for sponsors to interact with their audience like never before,” Harris said.

Sponsors will capitalize not only at the racing venues, but also through media coverage expected during “The Series.” Harris explained, “We are going to be bringing an unparalleled amount of media coverage for the sport, which we are very excited about. This will allow us and our sponsors the opportunity to tell stories and produce engaging content over a two-month period, using one of the world’s most popular sports as a medium. It’s a sport in which women and men can compete as equals, and one that employs tens of thousands of people.”

Since current negotiations are underway, Harris was unable to provide specifics around the costs of sponsoring a racing team.  New York-based Leverage Agency is working with CHR on sponsorship sales and marketing advisory.

Fan Engagement and Gauging Success

Increasing fan engagement and reaching new fans is CHR’s primary objective during the first year of “The Series.” In addition to the racing teams and sponsors increasing fanfare themselves, CHR will utilize technology, including a mobile application dedicated to “The Series.”

“We are hoping our app will be the facilitator of genuine interaction between teams and their fans. Our #WeWinYouWin system rewards fans when their team does well,” Harris said.

“Rewards and benefits will be redeemed via the app. We also want the app to be a navigation tool for the events themselves. We will have a lot of different things going on alongside the action from the track and we want to help fans find their way around in a more intuitive way,” he added.

READ MORE: Saratoga Race Course Drives Sponsorships with Strong Attendance

As for gauging success and building the future of “The Series,” CHR will analyze feedback from fans along with overall acceptance rates in its markets.

Harris said, “We will judge our success by how people relate to the format of the competition and listen to their feedback. We are totally customer- and market-orientated in our approach, and we genuinely want to shape a series of events that the fans feel a part of.

“Our aim is to eventually take the competition to other parts of the world, but we must first make sure we give our audience a great show in year one.”

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Innovation

Seahawks Set the Standard for Concession Ingenuity at CenturyLink Field

After taking their concessions in-house, the Seahawks have found success with a more local and sustainable approach.

Adam White

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If you hadn’t noticed, your favorite sports team probably has a few more local flavors on their main concourse.

In a shift that has happened over the course of the past few years, teams are turning to local vendors to bring a new flavor to their fans.

The most prominent of the venues doing this might just be CenturyLink Field. Home to the Seattle Seahawks and the Seattle Sounders, CenturyLink Field has become home to one of the more diverse food offerings in the country.

The change from standard stadium thoroughfare to unique options that may only be found in the city came after the Seahawks became one of only four NFL teams to take their concessions in-house, meaning instead of relying on the Aramark’s and Delaware North’s of the world, they built their own food and beverage company.

First and Goal Hospitality was born in March of 2017 and currently operates all general and premium concessions for CenturyLink Field, CenturyLink Field Event Center, and WaMu Theater.  

Zach Hensley, VP of venue operations and guest experience for the Seahawks, points to the flexibility that comes with operating their own company that allowed the Seahawks to be more open to trying different things.

“As opposed to using a traditional concessioner model, it really gives us ultimate flexibility to be able to source products and partner with local partners. We are then able to tailor our business to what our fans are expecting when they come to CenturyLink Field.”

And what they expect is vibrant food offerings that the Pacific Northwest has become known for, and that can be found right outside the gates to the venue.

To further enhance its local offerings, the club built out the aptly named “Stadium Street Market,” an area where it rotates in and out four different chefs, restaurants, or food trucks. The team provides whoever is cooking that week with all the equipment they need, with the idea of using the space as a way to give back.

“They come in and produce their own cuisine in that area,” mentioned Hensley. “We rotate partners in for both Sounders and Seahawks games with the goal of providing an opportunity to give back to the community, give the partners the chance to market their product, and ultimately allow people get to know their brand a bit better and drive more traffic to their location.”

SEE MORE: How the Seattle Storm Social Team Pulled at Community Heartstrings

Taking the local approach even further, the team has also created what they call the “Night Market,” a similar idea to the “Stadium Street Market,” but only focusing on business surrounding the stadium. This “hyper-local” approach is done in part because Hensley knows that while they could get inspiration for food items they could create on their own, they would rather have purveyors and the experts come in and “do it themselves.”

Their local efforts continue beyond just the gates of the venue, as sustainability is a major part of their efforts. This includes being the only stadium that is Smart Catch certified, with 93 percent of the fish used at the stadium caught using sustainable methods as well as sourcing most of their meat from local farms and ranches that practice humane and sustainable farming in the region.

The part that Hensley is particularly proud of is the fact that the Seahawks have taken it one step further by creating a “closed loop” system in which their waste is turned into compost, which is turned into fertilizer, which is then used on a farm where the Seahawks buy a good portion of their vegetables.

“We did a sustainability game last November where we served over 6,000 pounds of potatoes from that farm. We have another one coming up in November of this year where every french fry, every potato in the potato salad and anything else in the venue made with potatoes will come from that farm. It’s a really great opportunity for us to give back, reduce our emissions, and provide a great quality product as well.”

Known for the Legion of Boom for the past years, the Seahawks and First and Goal Hospitality are proving that it only takes a look outside your venue to find creative, engaging, and sustainable ways to provide the fans with a culinary experience that is second to none.  

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