Clemson classmates invite sports fans to jump on the Bandwagon™
With March Madness just around the corner, college hoops fans across the country are gearing up for NCAA basketball — a tournament that comes to life in the stands, among the buzz of the cheering crowd. Whether the passion is basketball, football, baseball, hockey or all of the above, watching a beloved team in person is an incomparable experience for the die-hard sports enthusiast. There’s a sense of identity, along with that shot of adrenaline, when your team rallies and wins a big game. And there’s the comfort of knowing you can turn to your fandom community for solace after a difficult loss.
No one appreciates the world of college sports, and understands the fans who support their teams unconditionally, quite like Harold Hughes, B.A. ’08, MBA ’14. The devoted Clemson Tiger fanatic has taken sports loyalty to the next level, melding entrepreneurial enthusiasm with a pure love of the game. Hughes recently launched Bandwagon, an online secondary ticket marketplace that allows fans to buy, sell and trade tickets to sporting events, with an emphasis on college games.
It’s a novel idea with safety, simplicity and security at its core – three mainstays that more well-known online sellers have not yet mastered. It’s also a business model that immediately won the enthusiastic support of Hughes’ Clemson classmates, now Bandwagon partners: Samotria Holmes, B.S. ’07, Wendi Witek, MBA ’14 and La-Vaughnda Taylor, B.S. ’06. The committed team, in place for just a few months, has already generated a buzz with the company website www.bandwagonfanclub.com and an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that exceeded its goal.
Hughes said the idea for Bandwagon has its roots at Clemson. “I was talking with my Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers about our bucket list of historic football stadiums to visit,” said Hughes. The Clemson season ticket holders wondered what they’d do with their Clemson tickets while road-tripping. “This led to a discussion about a ticket trading network,” Hughes said.
While the idea for Bandwagon germinated, Hughes was finishing his master’s degree in Supply Chain and Information Management in the College of Business and Behavioral Science. In his final class, Strategic Management taught by Matthew Klein, interim director of Clemson’s Arthur M. Spiro Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership, Hughes analyzed case studies of various businesses, reworking corporate challenges to yield better outcomes. He would soon apply this classroom knowledge to his real-world business.
“I finished my MBA May 9th and filed for an LLC (limited liability company) May 10th,” Hughes said. Describing himself as an “evening CEO,” he’s bringing Bandwagon to life during long, late nights while holding down a full-time job. Hughes is the Northeast business development manager for ScanSource, a company he joined as an undergraduate intern pursuing economics and political science degrees.
When Hughes assessed his secondary ticket marketplace competitors, he realized the $15 billion industry lacked niche markets. He set his sights on the collegiate sports market and tapped into his Facebook network. “I reached out to 1,000 sports fans with a questionnaire about their game watching and ticket buying preferences,” he said. An astounding 400 fans responded. “Most season ticket holders don’t live in the area where they attended school, so they miss a lot of games – but have to consistently buy tickets to stay in the ticket pool. This means a lot of lost games and lost revenue,” he said.
Fans told Hughes they wanted an easier and safer ticket exchange experience than that offered by StubHub, Craigslist and message boards. He hired fraternity brother and web developer John Middleton ’04 of J. Wesley Designs, to develop a user-friendly website — an e-commerce marketplace — with strict cyber security measures. “People take risks when buying and selling tickets, meeting strangers at Starbucks to conduct transactions. I designed our online marketplace to be a straightforward site that minimizes uncertainty,” he said. Bandwagon charges sellers a flat fee of $12.50 per ticket, as opposed to the percentage-based and hidden fees charged by competing sites. Bandwagon users set up a password-protected account or sign in as a guest. They search for tickets to buy, sell or trade by entering the name of a team. Their “Bandwagon Only” function gives college fans the option of preserving their team’s home field advantage by selling tickets solely to like-minded fans.
Samotria Holmes, a communications professional by day, is charged with developing sales and recruitment strategies for Bandwagon, skills she learned as a Clemson business undergraduate and honed at the catering company she opened on campus. Holmes said her former role as band commander for the Tiger Band gave her a unique perspective into the inner workings of college sports. This year, Holmes will represent Bandwagon at the Sports Industry Networking and Career Conference (SINC) in Washington, DC. She hopes to snag a spot on SINC’s Shark Tank, based on the popular ABC-TV show. “We’re also reaching out to universities – running promotions with students and talking with administrators about potential partnerships,” she said.
Bandwagon’s vice president of finance, Wendi Witek, a former graduate school classmate of Hughes’, keeps a close watch on Bandwagon revenue and expenses, while attorney La-Vaughnda Taylor uses her passion for all things sports, along with her legal and branding background, to grow and protect the Bandwagon brand. Taylor and Holmes trace their sports fascination to childhood: Taylor was the only girl on her flag football team and Holmes got her start playing backyard t-ball. “Growing up in Columbia, everyone talked about USC,” Taylor said. “But I was into Clemson football.” Once there, classes such as Economics of Sports helped shape her favorite pastime into a career. Today, Taylor is a sports and entertainment lawyer and represents the non-profit interests of a major league baseball player. “We each played a pivotal part in the launch of this business and bring very different skill sets to the table,” said Witek of the Bandwagon foursome.
Hughes said his Bandwagon team will continue to grow into their leadership roles as the company evolves. Teamwork is the heart of their business. “One of the coolest things about sports is how they bring people together,” Hughes said. “There’s nothing like that feeling of being a sports fan in a stadium, on a field. I want everyone to have that, without paying ridiculous fees. That’s what Bandwagon is all about.”