‘A passion project:’ Varsity Brands not only sells sports gear, but works to create school spirit

Posted On February 19, 2019

With iGen following in the digital footsteps of the millennial generation, having grown up with technology at their fingertips as a primary source of communication, many of us Generation X parents find ourselves desperately seeking outlets that will force them into face-to-face social interaction.

And many of us are turning to team sports.

Our guest in the latest episode of “What’s Working with Cam Marston” is working to fuel – and equip – this phenomenon. Adam Blumenfeld is CEO of Dallas-based Varsity Brands, a major youth sports equipment distributor that does much more than sell bats and gloves.

Varsity Brands carries under its umbrella three distinct brands: BSN Sports, the largest team sports equipment and apparel distributor in the U.S.; Varsity Spirit, which dominates the market of cheerleading uniforms, camps and competitions; and Herff Jones, a leading provider of graduation and educational products and services.

Blumenfeld, whose father laid the foundation for the company after being the first to sell sporting goods directly to institutional buyers in the early 1970s, said the idea behind merging the brands in 2013 was to be more than just a distributor of sports and educational products.

“Anybody can sell products, services and goods to a customer,” he said. “But can we create an experience that sticks with these kids in a meaningful way and creates kind of a lifelong connection not just the activity but the values that are associated with them? So it’s been a passion project.”

The outcome has been incredibly profitable — over $1.9 billion in sales, with 9,000 employees and independent representatives. But Blumenfeld says it’s not just about the bottom line. The mission of Varsity Brands, he says, is to create school spirit and foster increased participation in team sports.

“When we can get these kids involved in activities, they succeed, they attend class more, they graduate faster and matriculate to better places,” he said. “We’ve used that as a core part of our mission here at Varsity Brands.”

In a wide-ranging discussion, Blumenfeld also shares the scope of just how big cheerleading has become, the skinny on Varsity’s new foray into band uniforms, how the company’s relationship with manufacturers works, what he sees as the next big thing in youth sports, and the importance of creating proprietary products and services as a means of sustainability in the age of Amazon.

“We sewed our billionth rhinestone onto a cheer outfit this year,” he said. “The amount of customization and personalization is daunting in a sense for others to think about because its scale is very hard to do. But we don’t take that for granted. … It all comes down to the personal relationship and the service we can provide.”

Categories: Entrepreneurship, iGen, Podcast, Product Design, What's Working with Cam Marston