Cheer Social

Event Producers

Vetting New Events: A Cautionary Tale

Vetting New Events: A Cautionary Tale

When Jam’s Athletics owner Elizabeth Marsh and her cheerleaders arrived at the Cheer Nation Nationals, they were looking forward to the opportunity to compete; in fact, one of the Jam’s Athletics teams was preparing for their first-ever performance. Instead, they got a heartbreaking surprise.

“The day of the competition, we came in, and there were no mats, pretty much nothing set up,” says Marsh, who was approached by a representative for event organizer Halee Yates to see if they could borrow Jam’s Athletics mats and spring floor at the last minute. This was not only an unusual request from an event producer, but a tall order, according to Marsh. “I don’t have Velcro strips for my spring floor; we actually screw ours in. But I was willing to do it so that the children would have an opportunity to perform. [However,] things went awry from there.”

As reported widely in the media, it turned out the venue wasn’t suited to hold a cheer competition—the ceilings weren’t high enough. Arguments erupted between frustrated coaches, parents and the event organizer, and ultimately, the hotel asked attendees to evacuate because the event hadn’t fulfilled its financial agreement. Teams did not receive a refund. “I had to eat the cost, because I can’t charge my parents for that. I refunded their money,” says Marsh.

Before a big cheer event, there’s often a lot of buzz, but the Cheer Nation Nationals aren’t the only event that turned out to be purely hype. For instance, last year’s Revolution Cheer event sounded like it was destined for success—with powerhouse gyms like Cheer Athletics, Cheer Extreme and Maryland Twisters set to compete—but when the event lost its backer, it ended up getting canceled. Moral of the story? Investing energy, money and faith in new events can often be a risky roll of the dice for any all-star gym.

So how can you vet events properly? Get some pointers from those who’ve learned the hard way:

Do your research. Craig El, co-owner of Ultimate Athletics, prides himself on paying attention to the details before signing his teams up for an event. That’s why he was thrown when the Revolution event went sideways: “I thought The Revolution was a good option,” he shares. “When they chose to come out to the NACCC event that we held at our gym and spoke and did a phenomenal presentation, we bought in 100 percent—not only for the team that they invited, but also with multiple other teams in our gym.”

Is there any way El could’ve foreseen The Revolution’s cancellation? He doesn’t believe so. Even though he always does due diligence, it doesn’t come with any guarantees. “With a lot of these newer competitions, it’s kind of a crapshoot,” admits El. “There really isn’t very much to go off other than previous history of the actual event, and general word of mouth from coaches, owners and industry insiders.” For first-time events, he’s now especially cautious: “If you do support that event, maybe send a few of your teams, not all.

Checking out the event’s background wouldn’t have helped in the case of Cheer Nation. Elizabeth Marsh explains, “There was no way to foretell that this competition wasn’t going to go well or wasn’t going to happen…this was not a brand new event. [Halee Yates’] dad had put on Cheer Nation [events] for years, and it was very successful.”

Trust your instincts. When Elizabeth Marsh was late signing Jam’s Athletics up for the Cheer Nation event, Yates told Marsh that a check would take too long to clear and she didn’t have the ability to process a credit card. Marsh says, “Unfortunately for the first time in all of these years, I paid cash,” shares Marsh. “I never should’ve done that. It was going against every fiber in my whole being, but I did do it.” Other coaches that signed teams up for Cheer Nation reported making checks out directly to Yates, which could be another red flag.   

If an event is having funding issues, they may ask cheer gyms to participate at a higher level than they feel comfortable. Craig El says when The Revolution lost its backer and teams started pulling out, they came to gym owners and asked if they’d be willing to participate at different levels, as well as offering part ownership of the event. At that point, he says, “It was just was something that we were like, ‘Nope, no. Not interested.’” The event ended up getting cancelled because so many gyms pulled out.

With any big event, there’s always a chance something could go wrong—event producers and backers are human, after all. Get as much information as you can beforehand, and you’ll be more likely to protect yourself and your teams from disappointment. 

Editor’s Note: Both Cheer Nation and The Revolution were contacted for comment on this article. The Revolution’s phone number has been disconnected, and Cheer Nation did not respond. A statement on the Cheer Nation website says that they are “working around the clock” to try to compensate those who paid for the cancelled event.

 

 

Spotlight: Dan Kessler

Spotlight: Dan Kessler

When JAM Brands co-founder Dan Kessler tried cheerleading for the first time at the University of Louisville after two years of playing collegiate soccer, his friends told him he was a natural at stunting. But he still had to learn the techniques from the ground up: a toss hands, then a toss hands extension, then a liberty, then a top hand. “[Stunting] was a new athletic skill that I had to conquer and try to perfect,” he says. “That addiction of getting better kept me going to practice and working.” 

One could say the same thing about the way Kessler approaches his business: taking one huge blowout cheerleading event, JAMFest, executing it, fine-tuning it and ultimately growing it into a 130-event-a-year production company, The JAM Brands, whose competitions young cheerleaders and dancers all over the continent clamor to attend.

In 2000, Kessler joined JAM Brands co-owners Aaron Flaker and Emmett Tyler, two of his old college buddies who’d started JAMFest in 1995, and made the team a “triumvirate,” as they call it. “People say [not to] mix business with pleasure or friends with business, but the personal relationship and appreciation and care that we have for each other [is what makes us different]. We like to see each other succeed in life, and that’s helpful,” Kessler says.

As far as splitting up the work goes, Kessler credits Flaker for JAM Brands’ marketing success—right down to the fonts on the signage—and Tyler for a “top-down” perspective, including calculating dollars and cents). Kessler says his own contribution to the triad has been a strong focus on product development, as well as  vision for the energetic, fun vibe and look that JAM Brands events are known for. He’s also a pro at “relationship-building,” a strength that’s paid off in spades—for instance, the ideas for both the Majors and the U.S. Finals grew from listening to what cheerleaders, parents, coaches and industry professionals had to say.

“Customer service and listening to people is very important. I try to listen to what is wanted and needed and then bring that into our products,” Kessler says.

To pull off events of JAM Brands’ caliber and visibility is a feat that Kessler says is attributable to several business must-dos:

Keeping the lines of communication open: Kessler heavily relies on personal communication with coaches and gym owners to disseminate information, and he leans on his office staff to facilitate that end. “Our staff is there to answer and make calls, answer emails as quickly as possible and get out the information as quick as possible,” he says. “You’ve got to have people communicate [your] message.”

Using social media to your advantage: Banners advertising event hashtags and Twitter accounts have become invaluable tools, as has using social media to “pre-promote” logistics information. “We try to tell the coaches and owners to tell the families to like us, follow us and hashtag us, so they can always be up-to-date,” he says. “That’s one of the things unique to us, even now, is the ability to get [information] right away.”

Viewing others’ successes as good for the industry as a whole: Even when competitions similar to JAM Brands pop up, Kessler welcomes new entries into the event business. “We feel pride that we can put out great products and services that other people want to replicate or duplicate or imitate, because that means it’s good,” Kessler says. He’s also keenly aware of how more events can aid the bigger picture of growing the sport in general: “Ultimately, our goal is to get as many kids to walk through the doors of a gym as possible—because that’s the most important thing in our industry: growing the number of participants.”

Making it about the kids: Kid-friendly bells and whistles like inflatable “fun zones,” Jammy the mascot, interactive video technology, social media participation and humorous gags like coaches or grandmas dancing together are all hallmarks of JAM Brands events. These elements are designed to encourage children to have a blast—and their decision-makers to attend the next JAM Brands event.

In event-speak, these are “external fun factors,” according to Kessler. “We invented or created many of the things you see on the all-star market today, and it started with focusing on the kids—that’s why we went with the name JAMFest,” Kessler says. “When you think of JAMFest, it has nothing to do with cheerleading. Back in the day it was NCA, UCA, MCA…very ‘alphabet’ companies. This idea was, ‘We want to have competitions, but we want to remember that these events are fun.’”

Fun is also a personal value of Kessler’s, right down to regular evening playtime with his two daughters and his legendary annual Kentucky Derby party, famous in Louisville for providing what Kessler calls a “slow start” to the long weekend, by way of conversation and bourbon cocktails. This year, his wife Shannon’s new company, Primp Style Lounge (a hair wash-and-style service similar to the popular Drybar chain), is slated to make an appearance at the festivities. 

Kessler is proud that his other half shares his entrepreneurial spirit. “We’re America,” says Kessler. “You watch cheerleading competitions and you say, ‘I can do it better.’ [Same with Primp Style Lounge]—it’s along the lines of what we see in New York and Chicago and LA. [Shannon thought], ‘These ‘dry bars’ and blowout places are great, so we’ll bring it to Louisville.”

Now that’s what we call Kentucky fried business smarts.

Test Your Trends Knowledge!

Test Your Trends Knowledge!

With all of the developments in our ever-evolving industry, it can be hard to keep up. For handy reference, we’ve compiled a thorough timeline of how some of today’s hottest trends and innovations came about (and the companies that pioneered them). But before you check it out, take our quiz below to find out how much you know—then check out the answers below!

 

 

 

1. Which of these companies debuted its custom uniform line back in 1999?

a)    Ozone

b)   Teamleader

c)    Rebel Athletic

d)   Chasse’

2. What year did Varsity introduce its Varsity Family Plan?

a)    1998

b)   2001

c)    2006

d)   2009

3. Which of these companies was not among those who originally launched US Finals?

a)    Varsity

b)   Spirit Brands

c)    The JAM Brands

d)   Epic Brands

4. Which of these invitation-only events made a splash in 2014 with an accompanying feature film?

a)    The Revolution

b)   The Majors

c)    All-Star Games

d)   Champions League

5. In 2013, Epic Brands debuted three new events. Which of these was not one of them?

a)    The Summit

b)   The Reveal

c)    The Debut

d)   Future 5

6. What’s the name of Spirit Celebration’s royalty-themed end of year event?

a)    Cheer Kingdom

b)   Cheerlebrity

c)    Crown Jubilee

d)   Reach The Throne

7. Several events adopted stay-to-play policies in select cities in 2014. Which of these was not one of them?

a)    Cheersport

b)   American Cheer Power

c)    JAMFest Cheer Super Nationals

d)   Coastal Battle at the Capitol

8. What was The Summit called in its previous iteration?

a)    International All Levels Championship

b)   The Road to Worlds

c)    Battle of All Levels

d)   All Levels Challenge

9. Which two companies combined to form EPIC Brands?

a)    COA and Coastal

b)   Americheer and Great Lakes Cheer Championships

c)    ACDA and Spirit Unlimited

d)   Xtreme Spirit and Twisted Spirit

10. What current publishing company were the original founders of Cheer Biz News?

a)    American Cheerleader

b)   The Cheer Leader

c)    Inside Cheerleading

d)   CheerProfessional

Answers: 

1.) B: Teamleader debuted its custom uniform line in 1999.
2.) C: Varsity introduced its Family Plan in 2006.
3.) A: The event producers that originally launched U.S. Finals were Spirit Brands, JAM Brands and Epic Brands.
4.) D: The invitation-only Champions League event debuted in 2014 with an accompanying feature film.
5.) A: Epic Brands’ three new events in 2013 were The Reveal, The Debut and Future 5.
6.) C: Spirit Celebration’s royalty-themed end of year event is Crown Jubilee.
7.) B: American Cheer Power adopted its stay-to-play policies before 2014.
8.) A: The Summit was formerly called International All Levels Championship.
9.) C: ACDA and Spirit Unlimited combined to form Epic Brands.
10.) D: The publishers of CheerProfessional were the original founders of Cheer Biz News.

Cheer Orgs and Associations 101

Cheer Orgs and Associations 101

As the all-star cheerleading industry has blossomed, an array of organizations has also sprung onto the cheer scene—resulting in a virtual alphabet soup of acronyms from ASGA to NCSSE to USASF.  Learn more about each group and how to decipher your options as a cheer professional with this handy-dandy slide show!

AACCA

 

American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA)

First founded in 1988, this non-profit educational association is dedicated to safety education. Its more than 70,000 member cheerleading coaches represent areas ranging from youth to high school to all-star to collegiate cheer and more. AACCA also provides ongoing certification opportunities for coaches and administrators, as well as secondary liability insurance coverage.

Website: http://www.aacca.org

 

USASF

United States All-Star Federation (USASF)

The national governing body for the all-star cheer industry, the USASF was founded in 2003 by the collective group of National Cheerleaders Association (NCA), Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA), Cheersport and America’s Best. Today the org has more than 500 member gyms and 130 competition sponsors, all of which agree to follow a standard set of rules set forth by the USASF. USASF also offers coach and athlete credentialing, scholarship programs, and other special programs. In conjunction with International All-Star Federation (IASF), USASF hosts the annual Cheerleading Worlds competition in Orlando, FL.

Website: http://usasf.net

National Advisory Board

National Advisory Board (NAB)

A subset of the USASF, the National Advisory Board is comprised of 25 members, all of whom serve two-year terms and are elected by the overall membership. Its purpose is to “set the agenda for the USASF as it addresses the future in a manner that will democratically represent the entire membership of the USASF.” The majority of the NAB are coaches and event producers (10 each), while the remaining five advisory board members represent affiliates.

Website: http://usasf.net/members/board/

NSGA

National Small Gyms Association

The NSGA is dedicated to recognizing and meeting the unique needs of small gyms with less than 75 members. (Once a gym grows to more than 150 athletes, it is no longer eligible to be part of NSGA.) In recent years, the NSGA merged its organization with the USASF, and annual fees are now included in overall USASF membership. The association meets annually at the NACCC to further the interests of small gyms across the nation.

Website: http://www.usasf.net/members/smallgym

NACCC

National All-Star Cheerleading Coaches Congress (NACCC)

Also a subset of the USASF (since 2005), the NACCC is held every January in Atlanta, GA, and is designed to give USASF members from across the country “a voice in the government.” At this industry meeting of the minds, rules changes and other policies of note are discussed and voted on by the membership at large. It now also encompasses the annual NSGA meeting since the group has joined forces with USASF.

Website: http://usasf.net/cheer/

NCSSE

National Council for Spirit Safety and Education (NCSSE)

Headed by Liz Rossetti of Americheer, the NCSSE features an international council of industry leaders whose aims are to provide comprehensive safety training and certification for spirit coaches and advisors. Nine countries are represented in its membership, and its board members include Americheer, British Cheerleading Association, Southwestern Cheerleading Association, Cheer Ltd. and UPA Cheer and Dance.

Website: http://www.spiritsafety.com

IEP

Independent Event Producers (IEP)

Founded in September 2009 by a core group of eight companies (Mardi Gras, UPA Cheer & Dance, Cheer America, Pac West, WSA, Spirit Celebration, Champion Cheer and Cheer Ltd.), IEP serves as an independently functioning group of event producers who come together for the greater good. (Eligible members are independent companies with revenues of $5 million+ that are not owned or controlled by any spirit industry entity.) Since its inception, IEP has grown to more than 20 member companies and held its first all-member conference in Las Vegas in 2010.

Website: http://www.weareiep.com

ASIP

Association of Spirit Industry Professionals (ASIP)

The largest spirit trade association in the world, ASIP features more than 100 participating countries internationally. Among its members are educational organizations, suppliers, publications, competition organizers, safety organizations and gym owner groups. This large-scale organization represents an August 2011 merger between Organization of Spirit Industry Providers (OSIP) and the Spirit Industry Trade Association (SITA).

Website: http://spiritindustry.com/membership/asip-members/

ASGA

All-Star Gym Association (ASGA)

The ASGA was founded in 2012 to give new voice to gym owners and coaches through “democracy, transparency and free market.” A major part of its mission is to lower overall cost for athletes and increase economic viability for gym owners. It takes an active stance on industry issues, and in spring 2012, published the results of its membership survey on the new USASF rules changes. The organization’s first “Town Hall Meeting” was held in April 2012 in Lake Buena Vista, FL.

Website: http://www.allstargymassociation.org