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i9 SPORTS FEATURED IN WALL STREET JOURNAL

When it comes to league sports for kids, Frank Fiume admits that he is first and foremost a fan.

How I...Tackled Flag Football

By GRACE L. WILLIAMS

Who: Frank Fiume, founder and CEO
What:
i9 Sports
Where:
Brandon, FL
Web site:
www.i9sports.com
Year founded:
2003
Employees:
28
Annual revenues:
$13 million

When it comes to league sports for kids, Frank Fiume admits that he is first and foremost a fan. However, watching a sport and running a successful sports program are two very different things.

But Mr. Fiume knew that before he started his first youth sports program in 1998, and he ignored naysayers who warned he wouldn't be able to find space, coaches and participants. He took an offensive strategy by figuring out what other leagues were missing, and ran with it.

Charging almost double the fees of more traditional YMCA and parks and recreation programs, Mr. Fiume sought to stand out by providing a professional program that would run as a business. "Where some programs are operating a sport, [for us] the sport is really merchandise or product that [we're] selling," Mr. Fiume says.

Instead of the common practice of tryouts and drafts coupled with fundraisers, Fiume streamlined the entire process, inviting anyone with an interest in playing the sport to sign up. The higher charge covered uniforms and other costs, and parents that truly wanted to volunteer were welcomed. Mr. Fiume also ventured into uncharted waters by offering something that he says wasn't looked upon as a real sport in Florida: Flag football.

The first season Mr. Fiume ran the program, about 100 children participated; by the time the next season rolled around, 600 kids were waiting to sign up. As it turned out, Mr. Fiume says, a lot of moms were searching for the exact program he was offering.

Mr. Fiume also set up a Web site to provide a layer of convenience and create a user-friendly community. "If parents want to pay for their membership using a credit card online, they can," he says. Through the site, players and coaches have access to each other as well as schedules and upcoming announcements. The site often features contests and special giveaways, including a Nintendo Wii during the recent holiday season.

"You have to have more than passion," says Mr. Fiume, who anticipates enrollment for the 2010 season to be about 50,000 across his franchise, which he dubbed i9 Sports in 2003. A solid game plan will "get you through the bad times."

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