Sports Plus

Camp Snapshot

US Sports Camps

San Rafael, Calif.

Number of camps: 480

Sports offered: Tennis, golf, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, volleyball, field hockey, softball, baseball, swimming, running, crew, ice hockey, etc.

Typical session length: Five or six days

Average cost per session: $600 resident-camp fee

Tennis anyone? That’s the question a group of people, including a tennis shoe merchant, asked themselves amid the 1970s tennis boom.

It started as Tennis America, a small business that operated multi-site tennis camps, then eventually flourished into a valuable product in the summer camping market.

Consequently, investors considered the concept of children’s sports camping, conveniently located on college campuses, led by college coaches.

Getting the Ball Rolling

“We started small with two or three sites in the mid-’70s, concentrated on those and grew slowly, while our emphasis was entirely tennis,” says Charlie Hoeveler. “I was doing this part-time for 10 years,” reflecting on his early days of distributing athletic shoes and leading camps.

After a decade of service, he became the full-time Chief Executive Operator of US Sports Camps and began to grow the organization using other sports such as golf and basketball.

Then, swooshing down in 1993, Nike established a licensing agreement with USSC that changed the look and revised its reputation. The Nike logo can be found on everything from printed materials, approved promotions, to the apparel worn at camp. The summer weeklong experience became branded as Nike Tennis Camps.

Hoeveler explains, “Nike likes the fact that we are building young athletes, and these young athletes are identified with Nike. It’s grassroots marketing as it (Nike) gets close to a market segment of children who are trying to improve at camp.”

Within the last decade, USSC became even bigger by merging with existing sports organizations or by acquiring other successful camps.

Many USSC camps were actually started by someone else who was unable to keep it running. In some cases, the college hosting these programs would ask USSC to take it over.

Armed with a Nike sponsorship, investment capital, and experienced and passionate leadership, USSC has expanded to become America’s largest sports camp network offering over a dozen different sports in 480 camps serving 57,000 participants in 47 states.

Defining the Experience

A camp, as defined by USSC, equals one sport at one location with one head coach/director, each being discreet and independent. For instance, there are 60 tennis camps, 100 golf camps, 35 volleyball camps, 20 soccer camps — all offered, owned and operated by USSC.

“We are primarily a resident sports camp organization,” replied Hoeveler when asked about finding facilities for hundreds of camps. “We contract with mostly college campuses and some private boarding schools.”

For one week the campers are able to live the university experience by staying in the college dormitories, eating in the campus cafeteria, and utilizing the school’s athletic facilities. And to make the event all embracing, the college coach is the camp director.

The college coach turned summer camp director is responsible for operating the camp program as a partner of USSC and shares revenue brought in by the program. A typical coach may earn $5,000-$7,000 a week during their summer off-season.

The “secret” to maximizing profits has been to attract very good Directors and pay them very well as partners sharing the income.

Mathematically, as a general example, the average price per camp is $600. The director gets one third, $200, and has to pay his/her staff $100 per camper. So the director nets $100 per camper at an average of 50 campers per week. Thus, the total is $5,000 per week netted by the director. Not bad, considering the average coach may direct two to four weeks of camp.

Hoeveler adds, “With our partners, we try to build revenue together. They are responsible for staffing and running the camp; we are responsible for all the marketing and administrative things.” This includes promotions, advertising, registration processing, insurance, camper workbooks and T shirts, tax filing and payroll.

Moreover, the camp director has the discretion of planning their particular program. And because of the true business partnership arrangement, each director has free rein when hiring and negotiating summer staff salaries.

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