Clearwater’s sports facility companies have built a legacy based on strategy

When people walk into a recreation center to go swimming or take a yoga class, they probably don’t think about how the facility is run.

But the Sports Facilities Companies, based in Clearwater, do. In fact, that’s their job — in a way: to create management and operations so seamless and successful that people are drawn to the recreation facility, whether they know it or not.

“We’ve assembled this team of subject matter experts with the best systems, processes, programming, and vendor partners that enable all of these individual complexes to plug into our platform,” said CEO and Co-Founder Jason Clement. . “They can get best in class so they can be the best performing resort, not just financially, but with customer experience, economic impact and mixed-use development.”

Sports facility companies work with sports and recreation centers at almost every stage of the process, whether it’s providing strategic insight or helping to manage a facility that’s been open for years. When Clement talks about the business plan, he’s referring to the popular “Field of Dreams” line with a slight tweak: don’t just build it and just assume they’ll come. You have to build it and know they are coming. This means having staff, training, branding, pre-sales, risk management and insurance in place, among others.

“Once all of these things are in place, when you hit the ground running on opening day, you open up with the sophistication of a three-year operation versus a three-day operation,” Clement said. .

The company now has about 1,500 employees nationwide, but it had humble beginnings. Clement and co-founder Dev Pathik started the organization in 2003 with little more than themselves. He and Pathik acknowledged that the sports facilities industry was “fragmented” and “simple” – in essence, it was ripe for disruption, a quality most start-ups seek before infiltrating a space.

Rocky Top Sports World is an indoor and outdoor sports campus in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. [ Photos courtesy of Sports Facilities Companies ]

“No one really knew what true north was and what was good,” Clement said. “The market has realized that there is a higher level of performance. We can expect more from these operations.

Initially, they started by word of mouth and eventually speaking engagements. Over time, the sports facility companies have grown to their now gigantic size, having worked on projects in more than 2,000 communities across the country. What unites them all is the mission, Clement said: “to improve the health and economic vitality of the communities” they serve.

“Typically, most of the communities that develop these resorts have some iteration of that mission in mind,” Clement said. “The trigger is the recognition of doing better within their community than what they are doing.”

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For the employees who joined us as Sports Facilities Companies experienced exponential growth, it was a whirlwind of activity and opportunity. Account manager Lori Moore first worked as a marketing manager at Rocky Top Sports World in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which was “one of SFC’s first managed facilities in a sports tourism destination market,” a- she declared.

For Moore, the job was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to truly combine all of his passions.

“I never thought I would have the opportunity to combine my love of working with city government with that of youth and fitness,” she said. “Having to combine these three things that I absolutely love into one makes it less of a job.”

As an account manager overseeing around seven properties, her day-to-day work is always a little different. She might need to consult on a management issue, a legal issue or a marketing dilemma.

In her nearly nine years with the company, she rose through the ranks from Rocky Top Marketing Manager to General Manager and finally to her current role as Account Executive. This trajectory was a surprise even for her.

“I didn’t expect to get the opportunity to do what I’m doing today,” Moore said. “They saw the potential and gave me the opportunity. It really is a place where there are opportunities for young people who want to grow in this industry.

Recently appointed VP of Marketing and Partner Ashley Whittaker echoes Moore’s experience. Her move into the company was informed in part by a conversation she had with one of their executives at a conference. “I would really love to work with these guys,” she thought after only their second conversation.

Sand Mountain Park & ​​Amphitheater is a 130-acre park in Albertville, Ala.
Sand Mountain Park & ​​Amphitheater is a 130-acre park in Albertville, Ala. [ Photos courtesy of Sports Facilities Companies ]

It didn’t take long for this to materialize. About six months later, a marketing position opened up. Whittaker asked her husband if he would be willing to travel across the country for work. As she says, six years later, they are still there. Much like Moore, she had a steady path of promotion from chief marketing officer to vice president of marketing to now, about two weeks ago, a partner in the business.

“I wanted to come to an organization where they embraced ideas, where if you had an opportunity and reached out, they would let you run with it,” she said.

But like any job, there are good days and bad days. The start of COVID-19 has been more than a bad day for the Sports Facility Companies team. At that time, they were working with properties in 16 states, all of which had their own procedures for eventual reopening. Some states reopened athletic facilities as soon as possible and others waited up to nine months, Clement said.

“We were more busy shutting down sites than operating sites,” he said.

But there was a silver lining: when each location reopened, it generally did so with great success.

“There was a wave of families and society wanting to get active again,” Clement said. “We’ve seen this comeback rebound that’s just exponentially higher in terms of youth and sports participation than they were going to in the pandemic.”

As the market grows, this only portends more employee growth. For the likes of Moore, who estimates she was the 10th employee overall, it’s a big change from when they started. When Whittaker came on board, there were about 25 people at headquarters. Now they are close to 70.

“We plan to continue to grow,” Whittaker said. “We hope that people who see this will be attracted to what we do and the culture we create and want to consider a career in youth sport.”

But maybe the least important part is where they go. What matters is where they come from.

“When you start a business with two people in an apartment in Dunedin, and now you have 1,500 team members, 25 million guests across the country and $500 million in economic impact,” Clement said. . “It’s just a lesson in humility.”

Photos courtesy of sports facility companies
Photos courtesy of sports facility companies [ Photos courtesy of Sports Facilities Companies ]

Sports facility companies

Manages recreational and acro sports centers

Employees: 56 in Tampa Bay, 1,048 nationwide

Location: Clearwater

Website: sportsfacilities.com/

Employee Comments: “I am challenged every day to perform at the highest level.”

“I feel that my ideas are heard and taken into account. We work as a team and not against each other.

“I can have an impact on the mental, physical, social and spiritual health of communities through my participation in the development and management of sports complexes. I get to do this job with people I like, great clients, and we innovate and work to improve on a regular basis. »

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