Sutton’s Teall pushing into college retail
Ben Sutton’s private equity company is getting into the retail merchandise business with an eye on reshaping the game-day experience for college and pro sports.
After years of attending football and basketball games, Sutton said retail merchandise displays were a weakness for most teams and schools with low-end apparel folded on tables or hanging from cheap racks.
“I just kept thinking, ‘There’s got to be a better way,’” said Sutton, the former IMG College president. “Why can’t we give fans a Wimbledon or U.S. Open retail experience and at the same time significantly improve game day for the fans.”
|Rex Hough, who worked with Ben Sutton at IMG College, will run Dyehard Fan Supply.
Not only do schools want more of a high-end shopping experience that would improve sales, they want another reason for fans to stick around at games instead of leaving at the half or not showing up at all. College football attendance has been trending slightly down the last seven years. Retail can be part of the solution, Sutton believes, even though it was not originally part of his plan for Teall.
To meet that retail need on game day, the firm has created a company called Dyehard Fan Supply, which plans to roll up between seven and nine regional merchandise and e-commerce businesses.
Rex Hough, who worked with Sutton at IMG College, will be Dyehard’s chief executive and will run point on integrating these acquisitions into a national company. Like Teall Investments, Dyehard will be based in Winston-Salem, N.C., but will have satellite offices across the country as Sutton and Hough make more acquisitions.
Dyehard came out of the gates last week with its first acquisition — North Carolina-based Team Retail Solutions. The company’s founder, John Knudson, will stay on with the company, which will be folded into Dyehard and eventually take on the Dyehard name.
As many as three or four more acquisitions could close in the next month or so, Sutton said.
Dyehard also has negotiated retail merchandise rights for Tough Mudder, the series of fitness competitions, and the Music City Bowl in Nashville. Team Retail Solutions also owns merchandise rights at three other bowl games, giving Dyehard a presence at four bowl games in the coming weeks.
Hough also said Dyehard is in the mix for game-day sales and online sales at three universities that have issued RFPs. Team Retail Solutions already owned the game-day retail concessionaire rights at Rutgers University.
“The whole goal is to change the game-day experience for fans,” Hough said. “In each one of the school deals we’re looking at, there is a required investment to put capital into a better build-out” in and around the venue.
That likely will translate into a temporary tent setting that feels permanent, fancy finishings inside, and a staff on the floor of the store dressed in khakis and team-colored polo shirts. Customers will have the ability to ship purchases home so they don’t have to carry them around at the game.
Dyehard will encounter stiff competition in the space from the likes of Fanatics, Barnes & Noble, MainGate and Aramark, among others, who operate team stores and handle online sales.
In addition to those larger operations are a handful of what Hough described as “mom and pop shops” similar to Team Retail Solutions. They might be limited by a lack of capital, but they have the wherewithal to grow with the right backing and set of connections. That will be the sweet spot for Dyehard as it seeks retail shops that can be rolled into the larger company.
Hough hopes to establish offices in regions across the country so that Dyehard is on the ground or close by for any event, whether it’s college, Tough Mudder or a golf tournament.
“There’s got to be a better way to deliver customer service, the white-glove treatment and just a better connection with fans on game day,” Sutton said. “What we hope to bring is a much more polished approach to this space.”
Combining several regional companies into a national network is not unlike how Sutton built his first company, ISP Sports, into a multimedia rights powerhouse starting in 1992. It took time, winning the rights to one school at a time until ISP eventually had 50 school clients, but ISP finally achieved significant scale to build a national platform. He eventually sold in 2010 to IMG.
Dyehard’s goal similarly is to take these regional businesses and combine them into a national company capable of handling retail merchandise business anywhere.
“We want to have boots on the ground so whatever events we have, we can go to market in their region,” Sutton said.