Ah, summer evenings in the city. Along the lakefront, young urban professionals are playing volleyball in organized leagues. They’re playing softball, too, and soccer and even football. Jason Erkes is making money from many of them.
Twelve years after the Olympia Fields native and former TV news producer bought the Chicago Sport and Social Club with a group of investors, Mr. Erkes has transformed what was a dead business, with a few dozen Chicago Park District permits and a floppy disk of 6,000 email addresses, into the nation’s largest adult recreational sports company by participation, according to the Sport and Social Industry Association.
With about 5,400 leagues in 20 sports and a stronghold on prime playing facilities in and around the city, Sport and Social, as it’s informally known, will host nearly 100,000 players this year, generating revenue of more than $7 million, based on a Crain’s estimate. (Mr. Erkes declines to discuss these figures.) That’s more than twice the number of leagues and sports it offered when Mr. Erkes, 43, acquired the business after it was shuttered unexpectedly in 2001, when its dot-com parent went bust.
“We wanted to rebuild the company’s brand name and re-establish the good will that had existed for so many years,” he says.
In the process, he and his staff of 15 full-time employees have collected a demographic that marketers covet. Sport and Social participants largely are college-educated singles between ages 22 and 35; the average age is 27. Many have money and ambition, too. Taverns love sponsoring teams, while big companies, including Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., 3M Co. and MillerCoors LLC, love backing the club itself.
“It’s very unusual to have that all-encompassing adult group,” says Enrico DiMario, global business director at Wilson Sporting Goods Co., which has sponsored Sport and Social for 15 years and provides new equipment each season at a discount.
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