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VOL. 11 | NO. 3 | Saturday, January 20, 2018

Rent Like a Champion Carving Niche as Sports World’s Airbnb

By Don Wade

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Good business ideas can happen anywhere. This one happened in 2006 in South Bend, Indiana, where three Notre Dame students listed a vacant apartment on Craigslist and eBay as a weekend rental for football games.

That was the beginning of what would become Rent Like a Champion. Jordan Curnes, Drew Mitchell and Derrick Shenk had tapped into the zeal of sports fans and the need for lodging in college towns that don’t have enough motels and hotels to handle the onslaught of fans on football weekends.

Today, not only has Rent Like a Champion expanded its college football market – it is in more than 20 college towns – but it has added the PGA Tour, NASCAR events and this year’s Super Bowl to its lineup.

The company first worked with a PGA Tour event in 2016, forming a partnership with the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Illinois. Rent Like a Champion was involved with several PGA Tour events last year and this year has an agreement with the FedEx St. Jude Classic, which will be played at TPC Southwind from June 7-10, with associated events happening all that week.

Rent Like a Champion provides rentals for college football weekends, PGA Tour events and NASCAR races. This year, it will work with the FedEx St. Jude Classic to provide private homes for golfers and sponsors. (Memphis News File/Brandon Dahlberg)

Mike Doyle, CEO of Rent Like a Champion, says the company already has five homes listed on its site for this year’s FESJC (info@rentlikeachampion.com for details on any event, including the FESJC).

“For most PGA events, when we’re like four to six weeks out we want to have 20 to 25 homes listed on the site,” Doyle said. “That gives the golfers and the sponsors good options – big enough homes with amenities and within their budget.”

Darrell Smith, FESJC tournament director, said: “It’s no secret we’ve been able to provide private houses for players inside TPC Southwind. But (Rent Like a Champion) has a system that works. It frees our staff up to concentrate on other things we’re experts in. And also, some of those players might already rent from Rent Like a Champion” at other tour stops.

While the company is finding growth with golf, Doyle says college football is its “bread and butter.” Among the markets where they have a solid imprint: Auburn and Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Oxford, Mississippi; Athens, Georgia; Columbia, Missouri; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Clemson, South Carolina; and State College, Pennsylvania.

“When we started, the concept of renting to strangers was foreign,” Doyle said. “Airbnb’s a big company people have heard of, and to be honest, it’s kind of normalized renting to strangers. We can tell a difference from five years ago.”

College football is an ideal fit, Doyle says, because the fans are passionate and willing to travel and because it’s often a “communal” event with groups of friends or many family members making the trip.

“A lot of times it’s like a mini-reunion,” he said. “The parents meet the children, they bring the grandkids, and you have eight or nine people in the home instead of being spread across three or four hotel rooms and not getting to spend much time together.”

When Rent Like a Champion enters a new market, the staff attempts to develop inventory within a 5- to 10-mile radius of the event venue. For PGA Tour events, especially, the closer the better. TPC Southwind’s homes play into that model perfectly.

“If you can literally take a golf cart to the clubhouse to start the day, that’s really appealing,” Doyle said.

The company does have not an official relationship with NASCAR, but is making inroads in markets in Talladega, Alabama; Bristol, Tennessee; and around the Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.

Youth sports tournaments provide another target audience: competitive baseball and softball travel teams and the families that accompany them. The company is just beginning to hit those markets.

Because this year’s Super Bowl is in Minneapolis, Rent Like a Champion had a head start on compiling homes and condos because it offered listings in the area for the 2016 Ryder Cup. People that had experience renting then are offering the homes again for the Super Bowl.

“Even within college football, there’s a lot of room for us to grow,” Doyle said. “A lot of Big 12 and Pac-12 areas we haven’t touched yet. And there’s still a lot of green space with the PGA.”

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