May 15, 2024

Honcho Pickleball - Sold Out Podcast #4

Discover the secrets behind Honcho Pickleball's meteoric rise from backyard fun to nationwide sensation in Episode #4 of the Sold Out podcast. Aaron reveals innovative strategies for league success, from strategic partnerships to maintaining competitive balance, offering an insider's view on how to scale up while keeping the player experience top-notch.

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From Backyard League to National Expansion: The Honcho Pickleball Story

Welcome to Episode #4 of the Sold Out podcast where we interview league organizers across the country for tips and tricks on how to sell out leagues.

In this podcast episode, we sit down with Aaron from Honcho Pickleball, a rapidly expanding amateur pickleball league organization. The discussion delves into the origins and explosive growth of Honcho Pickleball, beginning as a casual backyard league in Houston, Texas, and evolving into a multi-state operation with partnerships in over 15 cities. Aaron shares insights on the logistics of managing league play, including their unique approach to scheduling, which encompasses eight-week seasons structured within a ten-week timeframe to accommodate venue needs and weather-related delays.

Key topics include Honcho Pickleball's strategic partnerships with national brands, its operational challenges, and innovative solutions for scaling up efficiently without compromising on the player experience. Aaron emphasizes the importance of community building through mid-season social events, high-quality league merchandise, and robust championship packages that add significant value for participants. Additionally, the podcast covers the nuances of negotiating venue partnerships and maintaining competitive balance within the leagues to ensure a fair and enjoyable environment for all participants. Through this conversation, listeners gain a comprehensive understanding of the complexities and triumphs involved in managing and expanding amateur sports leagues.

Below is the full transcript from this episode. The Sold Out Podcast is available on Spotify and Apple, or you can watch the entire interview on our YouTube Channel! Tune in every other week to hear AREENA interview the country's best league organizers about their success in selling out leagues consistently.


Podcast Transcript

Lance (00:02.127)
All right, today we have Aaron from Honcho Pickleball. Thanks for being here, Aaron. So let's just get off, get started with the basics here. Where are you located? What leagues are you running? How many players, teams do you kind of have going each season?

Aaron (00:16.894)
Yeah, absolutely can dive in there. First and foremost, thanks for having me on. Excited to unpack a little bit about Poncho Pickle, where we've been, where we are, where we're going.

So to answer your question, you know, I would say that what originally started as a backyard league that I was administering with friends and family, one of our friends courts that was private in their literal backyard, caught a lot of attraction and growth here in the flagship city of Houston, Texas towards our target demographic of 22 to roughly 38 year old individuals highly active on social

with technology or at least you know accustomed to technology and after that initial season just saw tremendously spike here in Houston and that led us to realize that you know our approach towards league administration was something that we were doing right we felt that there was you know a pretty large gap in the market on a local level let alone city state nationwide and it

wanted to aggressively pursue at a larger national based approach and ended up going through multiple rounds of expansion to stretch our brand into new cities, new states and here in a short eight months of a mass to

Honcho flag being planted in 10 different states across 15 plus different cities and Which we are partnering with venues in each of those cities to host our amateur pickleball leagues Varying league nights varying skill set leagues in each of those cities. So it's been a wild ride I've caught the attraction

Aaron (02:08.626)
and been fortunate enough to be sponsored by a lot of great brands like YOLA, Pickleball, as well as Celsius Energy Drinks, Michelob and Neutral, as well as Zing Zang Bloody Mary Mix. And we're just excited for continued growth, continued expansion, and our greater effort to become the premier amateur pickleball community and experience across the nation. So yeah.

Lance (02:31.655)
Awesome. So what, that's a lot that you've accomplished. It seems like in a short time. What was the, when did you originally start with the backyard thing? What year was that?

Aaron (02:40.97)
This was 2023 and I guess that was July, September timeframe was our inaugural friends league that we kicked off. And since then it has been a whirlwind.

Lance (02:55.783)
So that was literally in a backyard, that very first. Okay.

Aaron (02:59.958)
Yeah, literally in a backyard. One of my longest family friends had a court that was just beautiful. I knocked on their door many a times to ask us if we could play a few days a week. And then I structured basically the league infrastructure at that time through a Google sheet. And here we are, a little bit more polished than a Google sheet.

Lance (03:02.31)

Lance (03:21.243)
So that's how long are your typical seasons in any of these leagues?

Aaron (03:27.282)

And so each of our seasons across every city, across every skill set division, across every league night that we offer, our eight week seasons in which each of those eight week seasons consist of six weeks of regular season match play and then two weeks of playoffs, which I can dive into here soon. Those eight weeks though are encompassed within a greater 10 week time period to make sure that all of our cities are operating within the same 10 week time frame.

that 10-week timeframe ends, it then rolls into the next 10-week timeframe. Whether that is new cities coming on board with their, or online rather, with their inaugural seasons, or whether that is current cities starting their subsequent seasons, we like to keep everything on the same timeframe towards our greater effort of crowning head honchos across the nation for specific seasons in each of these different cities.

Lance (04:24.951)
Sure. Interesting. So everything is on like a 10 week cycle across the whole brand and I guess there's a two week buffer in there for like cancellations and rainouts and other kind of issues or whatever.

Aaron (04:31.371)

Aaron (04:37.582)
That's exactly it. Yep, weather is a very real factor with some of our outdoor venue partners. And then more than that, a lot of our venue partners, they have specific weeks that they have corporate buyouts or whatnot. And that's important for those venue partners. And so we have figured out a way to help them continue to flourish with some of those larger revenue opportunities by building in these additional two weeks of buffer to allow us to take certain weeks if need be with, obviously, advanced note.

and roll them to the back of that eight-week schedule to make sure the user experience is protected but also make sure our venue partners are excited to partner with us while also pursuing other programming opportunities as well.

Lance (05:23.023)
Yeah, that's interesting. So I've run a few leagues myself and know how these things can kind of get a little squirrely in terms of time and whatever. I guess there hasn't been a ton of seasons for your whole company out of these 10-week cycles because you guys are so new, but have you had it where it's not lined up quite like that? Because I know there's some organizers who will start out like that and it just becomes difficult and then the seasons end up all kind of...

off-center and you're starting at different times like have you had it yet where you could only actually run a six-week season in a 10-week time frame and you had to think about giving refunds or anything like that

Aaron (06:00.066)
Haven't run into that problem yet, which has been exciting. You know, we've done multiple rounds of seasons across different cities, and it's been very important for us to stay every one of our cities within that 10 week timeframe, again, protecting user experience, but then also when doing that, it more or less creates a deeper, larger community because everybody across the different cities are all playing in the same round of seasons, if you will,

head honchos around the same time frame every single season. We're starting each of the seasons around the actually at the exact same time week over week barring any weather setbacks and then it also allows us to have our registration periods regardless of what city all happening at the exact same time. So that was the decision that we made we felt it was you know very scalable very replicable and so yeah we stay on the same time frame across cities.

Lance (06:49.521)

Lance (06:59.703)
Yeah, so another big accomplishment or thing that you guys are doing, it's just the partnerships. I heard you talk, the way you talk about facilities and venues and the way you're thinking about their business clearly, which I imagine helps a lot in these relationships, but I think that's what a lot of people maybe get hung up on is how do you find a good facility partner and how have you been able to do it? How have you been able to not just find them, but negotiate a deal and I mean, you've got some nuance in what you're doing. These 10 week seasons where...

they may have some gaps. I would imagine that might've been a little bit of pushback of like, hey, I want you to rent consistently, but actually you're saying, no, they kind of want to have a couple free weeks. So how do you think about finding them and then crafting this partnership where they just feel like this is a great deal?

Aaron (07:45.094)
Yeah, that's a great question. Anytime that we stretch into a new city, you know, we do a lot of due diligence, a lot of research to go identify. We call them preferred venue partners PVPs right that really offer strong user experience right is there entertainment is their food and beverage is there, you know, a lot of court inventory is the venue located in a hotbed of pickleballers right so travel to and from is

Aaron (08:15.208)
You know, is there television screens in turf areas and, you know, high quality courts as well?

And so whenever we do that due diligence, you know, we're very particular about the venues that we reach out to as well as the venues that reach out to us with inquiries and questions about how they can become a part of our PVP network. And so I'd say that, you know, in these discussions, it's really about identifying the venue partner that you want to align with for a multi-season commitment,

people's backyards and they want access to those courts and us being the administrator of choice you know

We alleviate what I would argue is the biggest barrier to entry for players, which is coordinating a day, time, location, and a light skill set for some for people to play with. And so venues see that we are alleviating that. They also see that we are a bulk purchaser, a guaranteed revenue stream, a prepaid purchaser for these rounds of seasons. And then they also see the intangible value that we provide to them.

basis. Increase in foot traffic, food, beverage, merchandise, and membership upsell opportunities.

Aaron (09:34.166)
you know, exposure across our national community, a seat at the table with some of our national sponsor relations, mid-season happy hours, et cetera, et cetera, that make us pretty attractive to, you know, these venues relative to a retail buyer off the street. So, you know, it's a lot of back and forth, but as we've continued to grow, as we've continued to expand,

As you can imagine, credibility and validity has increased, which then has taken these negotiations or discussions from what used to be six rounds of back and forth and back and forth, ideating and getting creative, now into one, two rounds and the opportunity to progress and layer in a new VP in those markets.

Lance (10:11.676)

Lance (10:17.968)

Do you have any, I guess it wouldn't be pushback, but are some of these leagues still, or facilities still trying to run their own leagues? Because obviously that's one of the most common things we see is facilities run leagues, and in their mind, right, that's like, they're maximizing the amount of profit that they can make per unit of time, but as you said, they're introducing a lot of headache to actually running and doing all this admin, and plus there's benefits to you guys in terms of other things that you've kind of got going on. So.

Do these facilities still kind of run their own leagues or how do y'all think about that?

Aaron (10:52.142)
That's a great question. I'd say this, we actually partner with venues who do run their own leagues and venues who don't run their own leagues. The venues who don't run their own leagues, to your point, they don't care to get into the administrative space of coordinating all things, ranking, scheduling, playoffs, administrative, management, player.

relations, player management, etc. Or start achieving player retention, etc. And so for them, they want to identify a partner that they can trust is out of sight, out of mind, and is really putting on a good experience that leads to value for them at their venue without having to get involved in the administrative and management side of things. And so...

A lot of those venues really care to focus on their higher ticket revenue producing activities such as food, beverage, and corporate culture events. And so they more or less designate the league side of things to us, right? On the...

venues that do have internal leagues, we've noticed that our league with these venues that we partner with who host their internal leagues is differentiated enough and also has a more national...

you know, exposure, experience that they actually layer in alongside the internal leagues and complement and coexist and feed each other in a lot of ways towards the overarching goal for these venues, which is keeping players on site more often week over week. And so, you know, seeing a lot of success with that with venues who do host their internal leagues will continue to see a lot of success in that same manner because our league is

Aaron (12:44.106)
more times than not different than what they currently offer. I see a lot of mutual value that gets driven because of it.

Lance (12:50.351)
Yeah, yeah. So let's talk about that. That's obviously for a lot of people, a big thing is how do you differentiate? Because the fundamentals are the same. People get out there and they play, but there's a lot of ways to do this. And I, especially it seems like in pickleball, I don't know if it's because it's just so new, but you know, when we look at soccer leagues or basketball leagues, there's not that much variation, but in pickleball, there's, you know, ladder leagues where it's like you're just on your own, but you play with the force of them and you move up and down. There's leagues where you're in, you know, groups of like,

three groups of two I've seen where you're like on a really extra team of six. There's other ones that are much more just fixed where it's just you and a partner. And of course there's singles as well. So there's a lot of different ways to do it. Um, how did you, how do you guys do it and how do you think about it in terms of the broader thing of like differentiating your, your experience so that players love it and it can coincide with a facility zone leagues and not sort of cannibalize, I guess.

Aaron (13:42.826)
Yeah, no, great question. And I would say to your point, there are just tons of different league structures and a lot of the times these venues like to run, to your point, ladder leagues, MLP style leagues, open play leagues where it's very much so truncated by skill set division and people show up and then whoever's there, they run a league setting, if you will. And...

My background before jumping into pickleball aggressively stemmed from beach volleyball in which I was active in amateur beach volleyball three leagues a week, right?

And the approach that we ended up taking for Honcho Pickleball, you know, kind of stemmed from that was more or less defining who your team is. It's a doubles league in which you join with your partner for the entirety of the season. And in that season, it's you and your partner against the world for your specific skill set division, for your specific league night that you opt into, right? And you compete during the regular season based off of your record by the end of that season.

You're then thrown into a quarterfinal, semifinal championship match to determine, again, who is the head honcho of Houston, of Miami, of Los Angeles, of Chicago, etc. And you can obviously see where that is going. Definitely plan to layer in a head honcho national tournament, qualification only.

you know, et cetera, et cetera. But that is our league infrastructure. We've seen that leads to a lot of, you know, alignment from league participants. They wanna build chemistry with their partners. They wanna see themselves grow and exceed and compete at the highest level. And so because of that, we've seen a lot of excitement, joy, as well as retention because players want to...

Aaron (15:37.514)
go to war every single season, season over season, see if they can do better than what they did the last season, right?

Lance (15:42.735)
Yeah, so is that, I guess I'm curious about the playoffs and all that stuff. I love the head honcho thing. Obviously that's a great kind of marketing. I like that. So are you using like Duper for ratings or are you using something else? And when people kind of get into they just play the entire season at their level and then, you know, maybe then there's the head honcho of the 3.0 or whatever. And how do you think, you know, is there a promotion and relegation or yeah, how do you think about the mechanics?

Because one thing that seems consistent from doing these kind of interviews is the leagues that are doing really well tend to be pretty obsessive about competitive balance. If you show up and you get blown out or you blow someone out, that's obviously a horrible experience. So how do you think about competitive balance, the duper ratings, how it leads to playoffs and how that kind of evolves season over season?

Aaron (16:32.842)
Yeah, that's a great question and a couple things to touch on there. I will say the reason I decided to start my own honcho backyard league was because to the point you just mentioned, I had a really bad experience at a third party provider here in the Houston area. I ended up first two matches of that season.

couple teams, 11-0, right? We were supposed to be in the 3-0 to 3-5 league at that time, and these people had never held a paddle before, right? And so, you know, the fact that it wasn't properly regulated, wasn't properly guided as to where these differing skill set players could find a home, left a bad taste in my mouth, wasn't fun for them, wasn't fun for us, and so we are very particular, and in a lot of ways, we like to scare off the players

Sandbag, but then on the opposite side of sandbaggers the players who Unfortunately think that they are Ben Johns or Anna Lee Waters, right? When they've only held the paddle five times, but you know, they were high school heroes back in the day, right?

And so we're very adamant about our league descriptions, right? What it consists of, you know, what are the requirements, what is the standard match play look like, how frequently do you play in order to classify for these different leagues. We are, our skill set options are duper based. And so we've got five different skill set options, one of which is a beginner sub three oh female and coed league only.

male beginner league only, sub 3-0. The third is an intermediate 3-0 to 3-5 any gender league. The fourth is the upper intermediate 3-5 to 4-0 any gender and then the fifth is the advanced 4-0 to 4-5 any gender league because duper is obviously universal and so a female 4-0 and a male 4-0 can compete at the highest level together on the same court.

Aaron (18:39.95)
we opened that up for those upper three leagues to define the team that you so please. And so fortunate enough to have just layered in a pretty deep relationship with Duper. We were just announced as one of their top tier clubs across the nation.

One of a handful in which our league matches moving forward will be entered on to Duper upon submission to our league software and our forums post-match. And so we're excited to get to partner with Duper, help expand the Duper experience into amateur pickleball leagues ranging from beginner all the way up to advanced. And so, yeah, that's how I'd answer the question.

Lance (19:24.187)
Cool. So that leads into how people get into these leagues. And then playoffs, how do those run? Is that all on one night? Actually, you said two nights, right? So eight weeks season last, two weeks. So are they, yeah, how's that work?

Aaron (19:36.766)
Yep, so the seventh week of match play, right, is the quarterfinal week in which everybody, you know, has the opportunity to compete in the quarterfinals, whether you are on the champion side of the bracket or the consolation side of the bracket, you do and are guaranteed a seventh match, right? Single elimination, and so the next week, the eighth week of match play, consists of semifinals and then championship play. If you progress, you continue to move forward deeper into the round.

of playoffs and that eighth week obviously we'll have the semifinal matches roll right into the championship matches.

Lance (20:16.315)
So what's the sorry, what's the bracket size typically? Is it ranges?

Aaron (20:19.83)
ranges right so it can be anywhere from six teams per league all the way up to 16 teams per league depending on

Lance (20:26.907)
Yep, and everybody's gonna be in it. So if there's 16, you're gonna do a round of 16 and it's gonna be kind of a big playoff. And it's single elimination, so you're not doing, yeah. I'll use.

Aaron (20:36.226)
we would split, instead of a round of 16, we'd split them into two rounds of eight, right? Two quarterfinal rounds of eight, consolation bracket, champions bracket, right? And then the eight would dwindle to four, the four would dwindle to two, and the two would determine the head honcho.

Lance (20:46.715)
Got it.

Lance (20:54.159)
Got it, okay. And then if you're at honcho and you're in one of those brackets, do you move up to the next season? Or?

Aaron (21:02.098)
We definitely advocate that you do. We really wanna lean into the relegation system. And so, if you are a champion, you have the opportunity to promote up into the next skillset division. If you are a lower team.

Lance (21:05.031)

Aaron (21:19.93)
to grow and develop you and your teammates skill set and hopefully continue to climb the ladder. Again we offer different skill set divisions so then at that point people can make the proper decision to find their skill set home.

Lance (21:35.587)
Yep, but you don't force it? And do you look at point differentials or anything like that? Like any data to say, hey, you guys are cruising. You didn't just win, you won by a lot all the time.

Aaron (21:45.478)
Yeah, we definitely get very deeply involved with the match results, the amount of games won, the point spread, if you will. And we try to guide and shepherd people into the skill set divisions to protect the integrity of each of the skill set divisions as much as we can. But at the same time, we don't want to take the wind out of people's sails, right. We want to be inclusive. We want people to feel excited about participating.

Lance (21:54.065)

Lance (22:06.296)

Aaron (22:11.374)
And so I'd say that as it relates to the head honcho side of things and just speaking towards the differentiator of honcho pickle. You know, we really wanted to juice up our championship packages. And for this upcoming round of seasons that will actually kick off here late April registration closing on the 14th of this month.

Lance (22:23.813)

Aaron (22:33.85)
It is a $600 value champions package consisting of cash prize as well as free summer entry as well as some sponsor merchandise and gear. And so we do feel that's a pretty substantial differentiator relative to some of the Chili's gift cards that get given away in some of the amateur leagues. I would encourage.

Lead providers to really assess that people love a strong champions package I'd also encourage leaning into producing lead merchandise every single one of our lead registrants Get super high quality lead merch everybody wants good quality merchandise, right? And yeah, it does mean you know ponying up a couple extra pennies But if it's gonna sit in the back of the closet then why even make it?

So, you know, we've leaned into pretty high quality hats. We've also leaned into some pretty great moisture wicking non-cotton t-shirts. We felt that that's been very valuable for us as it relates to growth and retention. And then lastly, doing mid-season social hours and happy hours to bring people together in a non-competitive setting. That's something that we've layered in across our cities. Let people, you know, participate in raffles, drawings, drinks.

Lance (23:33.637)

Aaron (23:48.458)
You know, food, snacks, as well as open play, build the community, build the culture. We've seen that as well.

Lance (23:54.335)
Sure. So is that a big package? And actually, we did talk to, I guess it was Chicago Sport and Social last week, Brian, who runs operations over there. And he was talking about that there are some, with these prize packages, like increasing the level of it will also increase the level of competition, because suddenly people really want it. Have you seen that happen? And also, is this available for every division, or this is just like the top division champion?

Aaron (24:16.276)
Oh yeah.

Aaron (24:22.142)
Nope, as of right now it is every division, right? And the reason for that, again, protecting the integrity of the league. If somebody sees a higher ticket priced item at certain skillset divisions, they may be inclined to stretch into a league that is not best suited for them. But on the other side of things, I do understand that as you continue to climb, there should be larger and larger pots. But here and now, that championship package is offered to all of our skillset divisions.

to your point, higher championship packages lead to more consistency week over week, lead to higher competition levels, I'd say, week over week, and just a better environment, a better atmosphere, right? While we do realize that this is amateur sports and that pickleball or any other amateur sport out there is not people's profession, incentivizing people to make sure that they are attending

Aaron (25:20.112)
upon their match start. It's a difficult thing for some lead providers. And so we've figured and seen that, you know, really juicing up the pot is one way to do that gets people there on time, early, stretching, drilling, and getting ready for competitive.

Lance (25:36.343)
Yeah, yeah. Nice. All right. So I guess a lot of this in the back of my mind, all of it sounds really great. But when you say, I don't know if you said 10 states or something like that, it's like, that's a different kind of challenge. I think a lot of people, and we think about this all the time just on the tech stuff that we're trying to work on, is this issue of scale. That like you were saying in the beginning, you were able to do spreadsheets. You know?

people do the Google Sheets and Venmo you can get a league off the ground right but a change is pretty quick when it's two leagues and three leagues and whatever and you know some of our advisors that we work with are operating at very high levels and it's like you know how it changes when you're at 50 leagues and a hundred leagues a hundred there's so many new challenges that kind of get introduced and that's not just the technical side I guess where I'm curious to hear your thoughts is on the sort of staffing side and I do want to hear you know the growth the advertising like you guys have something

dialed in if we were able to just quickly get this many leagues off the ground this quickly. And we did something not to that scale but something similar before and we had a playbook of Facebook ads and all these things that would run at these intervals and it changed every two weeks. There were different kinds of discounts and so I'm curious to hear, I guess maybe we can start there. I really want to know about the staffing just personally, like how you think about possibly doing what you're doing and how you're hiring people and all that. But maybe let's start with...

the kind of the marketing and advertising. Like you just got a new facility partner and it's in, let's say Scottsdale, wherever. How do you think about getting the league off the ground in terms of the customers? And then maybe we can talk about the staffing side.

Aaron (27:12.642)
Yeah, absolutely. So the marketing push for these inaugural seasons in new cities, it is a joint effort. And so as you can imagine, we are pushing out marketing advertising dollars towards geo-targeted locations to obviously give awareness of our brand, give notice that we are stretching to people's backyards, not literally backyards, but in this instance, a location that's near them.

And then also getting creative with the venues, right? This is an additional programming and service offering for them. It adds value to them for all the reasons I mentioned prior. And so getting creative with them as it relates to collaborative, you know, campaigns, social media, email marketing, um, to really make it splash for that inaugural season, uh, is very important and is something that we lean pretty heavily into. And then after that inaugural season, it's really about layering in the

Lance (27:46.821)

Aaron (28:10.016)
retention strategies, referral programs, ambassador programs to help that specific city grow season over season over season. And so I'd say that is you know how we approach any new market and then any current market that we are stretching into subsequent rounds of seasons with.

As it relates to our team, it's been a pretty great effort thus far, bringing on really talented resources that are well-versed, well-skilled, and understand the world of amateur sports and what a player or a lead participant would really want. My background is in IT and business solutions consulting.

Aaron (28:58.55)
different nearshore service teams to help with a lot of the things relating to, you know, customer support, sales, you know, community relations and growth. And because of that, we've been able to assemble a small team, nearshore fashion, in which that team is helping service all of our different markets, all of the different venues, all of the different...

players in those specific markets and then obviously some of our sponsors that are using Honcho as a vehicle to capture the amateur pickleball market as well alongside us. Our team is predominantly full-time but then we also have some fractional part-time team members that we've brought on just to help us continue to grow and move quicker, faster, stronger.

Lance (29:50.791)
Sure. So what does the team look like? Is it all local? Do you have anybody that might mean local to you? Like if you were to launch a league, and I don't know if you guys are in Arizona yet, but if you were to go there, are you hiring somebody locally to that region or are you just doing everything remotely?

Aaron (30:06.43)
Yeah, everything remotely. We've got team members that are in California. We've got team members that are in Cancun and Bogota, Colombia. We've got team members in Atlanta. Those are our permanent team members. And again, then some additional fractional, but as it relates to the specific cities that we are in, I just having played in multiple leagues that were beach volleyball focused.

Lance (30:17.531)
Got it.

Aaron (30:31.342)
I always looked at the dynamic of those amateur leagues and thought that one of the more outdated pieces of those leagues was employing an individual who was on salary, who sat on the sideline and wasn't always the greatest representation of the brand, and all they would do is stand up, go log the score on their clipboard, sit back down, and then data entry later that evening. I looked at that and said, my goodness gracious.

It's outdated, we've got so many technology advancements, is it really necessary? And, in my opinion, it wasn't. And so, because of that, we layered in some capital to take our League software, tailor it to our...

league approach and more or less players know when going into each of their weekly league matches who their opponents are, what court they're assigned to, what their time block is and then they have the ability to submit their match results right after. Because of that, they don't necessarily need an on-site salaried individual on a week-to-week basis. Right?

Lance (31:41.927)
Sure. Yeah, yeah.

Aaron (31:47.152)
make the necessary advancements on the technology side to give that layer of detail and direction. And then in parallel, we also leaned into our ambassador program where our ambassadors are there to support on week one of each league season. They're there to support with the mid-season happy hours and the championship events. Outside of those three days within that season.

It's pretty much squared away. People know what to expect week over week. And so, yeah.

Lance (32:24.747)
Yeah. And I guess that's, there's some nuance there to, to different leagues. Like we, you know, we, we still run a couple of soccer leagues and we're having refs that have to come out every single time. And I mean, sometimes there's fights. I don't know if you have seen that in pickleball. We will see people who, who take it very, you know, they really want to be the, the head honcho of our league, I guess. And, and, uh, they take it pretty serious and it can get intense. And so we have to have somebody it feels like out there who is the, we call them the commissioner and they do a bunch of other stuff for us as well.

Aaron (32:37.666)

Lance (32:54.135)
as kind of a part-time position. But I guess, you know, pickleball, probably the culture is not quite like that. I mean, do you see any sportsmanship issues like that?

Aaron (33:01.467)

question. I'd say that you know through our ambassadors, through our technology, we've been able to really move away from having somebody physically onside because these are you know young adults as well as old adults that are mature that are polished and you know they want to be a part of a community, a network of individuals that is enjoyable for them and so as it relates to the sportsmanship side of things I will say different than soccer where there is a lot of body

Aaron (33:32.044)
right? We have not had a fight of any sorts escalated up to this point. There is some healthy chirping, I will say that, and we encourage that, right? This is a competitive environment. People want to win, people want to be successful, but no, we have not run into any issues or problems like that because fortunate for us, there is a divider in between both sides, which is the net. So, yeah.

Lance (33:40.411)

Lance (33:57.631)
Yeah, yeah, I could tell you some stories of some Some fights and chairs being thrown and all kinds of crazy stuff We've seen all kinds of stuff. But yeah, I imagine

Aaron (34:07.854)
probably be an offender of that by the way at some point with basketball for sure.

Lance (34:13.736)
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I guess you've talked about where you want to go a little bit with the business in terms of linking all these things together. One nuance that is kind of related to the fact that people don't have to submit scores, you don't have referees out there. And I guess that's not normal to have referees out there. It makes a ton of sense not to. Do you ever see a situation where it does make sense? Is that...

maybe part of this national sort of thing that you want to bring together, whereas kind of another tier, because obviously that adds a lot of expense and is a different kind of thing. But have you thought about that at all?

Aaron (34:46.354)
Yeah, I think once we, because I mean you just mentioned it right.

Honcho Pickleball Leagues, the lead component of our business is just our beachhead service offering. As we continue to plant new flags in new cities and then grow in each of those cities season over season, we do plan to become the premier amateur community and experience across the nation, which then will lend us into stretching into tournaments, corporate culture events, loyalty and subscription programs, etc. But up until we get to something more event

like a regional tournament or a city tournament or a national tournament where it would definitely require some support in the form of maybe referees. We've seen that the integrity of each match seems to be pretty ironed out without issue. There may be some kitchen line calls, there may be some questionable balls that may look out versus in, but I think everybody kind of understands the dynamic.

of the pickleball environment, which is if you're the one calling that call, you know, that call tends to stand unless it's just overly egregious, right? And you need to respect the fact that the one making that call has the best judgment call on it. And so at this point, you know, with our beachhead service offering, that being leagues, no, don't see the need for referees. But as we scale, yeah, I would imagine that layering that in would be good.

Lance (36:19.235)
Yeah. Well, that I guess that there another question popped into my mind about referees and about calls, which is like, how do you, how do you manage that? Like feedback from people? Because I mean, there's probably lots of general feedback. But I mean, I got to imagine that you've got some league somewhere where you've got some people are making calls pretty consistently that are advantageous to their side of the court. Are you? How do you deal with that?

Aaron (36:42.815)

That is such a funny question because there is always a Karen out there. There is always the opposite of a Karen in male form who is just making these bizarre calls that are just like, are we watching the same exact pickleball match? What's going on here? And I think again, it's just the class that our Hancho League participants demonstrate and show that we haven't had too many escalations that do trickle up to our support team, but we have had a couple.

Lance (37:11.675)

Aaron (37:13.552)
And unfortunately we do have to remind people this is amateur sports. While we do want to make sure that the matches flow properly and smoothly with a good level of integrity, unfortunately there will be those individuals who do make some questionable calls and we just encourage our lead participants to lean in past that, compete.

you know, to work past that questionable call. And if it does escalate more than just once, then yes, we will take action where need be. But haven't seen that happen yet up to this point.

Lance (37:48.059)
Got it, okay, interesting. Okay, I think I have maybe one more kind of question. This is one we're thinking a lot about, kind of on our end and talking to people about, and it's about sponsorship. And you mentioned from the very beginning you've got these sponsors. That feels like not an easy win, it's not necessarily low-hanging fruit, like there is some complexity to pulling it off, but it's a great way to increase margin in a business where sometimes people struggle a little bit with margin. So...

And you guys, I guess, as well, you know, are kind of making more of a national play. So who you can talk to might be a little bit different. But do you think about that whenever you launch a new league? Do you think about local sponsors and as well as national and then regional? And then how do you go about getting them?

Aaron (38:36.362)
Yeah, I will say from the very get-go we knew that there was a gap in the market. We knew that if we moved quick but with polish we could go capture this space which we feel pretty confident in.

trajectory at this point and we knew because of that we needed to really pursue national sponsor relations but to your point there's also a lot of smaller brands in the local area that want to participate in the ever-growing pickleball market right and they want to gain access or you know

leverage a vehicle like an amateur league to have their brand get exposure to those amateur pickleball leaguers. So we have really aggressively pursued national and regional presence sponsors, but now we are also going to be layering in some more city-based and local-based sponsors as well, obviously at a reduced level to allow them to tap into the league participants that reside in their cities.

We definitely see that as important, we definitely see that as advancing the community and the greater culture and also feel that it's valuable across the board to the sponsor, to the player, to Honcho but then also to our venue partners as well. And so that's how I'd answer that as it relates to how we went about bringing on the team.

these partnerships, these relationships, which we are so fortunate to have, you know, it is a

Aaron (40:11.998)
It is an effort to say the least and you got to have a lot of discussions. You got to progressively climb your way further and further, you know, up the charts if you will. But it's really about vision casting, right? It's really about delivering the value exchange. It's really about talking about what your league can provide, not just to the sponsor, but to the, again, the community in those respective locations.

and being patient and being willing to get creative with each of these sponsors knowing that each of these sponsors are in different swim lanes, they see value in a lot of different ways and willing to use a white drawing board and lay out what are the things that would help y'all advance your brand as it relates to amateur pickleball and what are the things that would help advance Honcho's brand partnering and affiliating with y'all.

Lance (41:08.027)
Hmm. Yeah, so that's it's a kind of a collaborative effort. I'm always interested in like the real tactical aspect of it, because I mean, I'm imagining somebody who, you know, people I know run leagues and they're sitting on an asset that they're not doing much with. And I think that there's, you know, like, what do they do? Right. And they've got to OK, I need to look up local bars or I need to look up certain kind of urgent care center. Like, what kind of business am I looking up?

Aaron (41:09.77)
Yeah, I'd say.

Lance (41:35.191)
And then I'm going to reach out and say, hey, do you want to sponsor a league? And like, why would they want to sponsor it? Why would they want to spend money with you instead of advertising on Facebook where they can slice and dice and advertise any, you know, do you have any like advice for someone like that of just like real tactically, like just here's how you can get out and just push something. Cause maybe when you're far along and you've got a relationship and they're interested, you can do the whiteboard thing where you collaborate or something. But even getting to that point and, and probably thinking about pricing as well. Like that, that is, I think hard for a lot of people. So what would your.

Advice be there.

Aaron (42:05.682)
Yeah. Yeah, I would say definitely do the due diligence, do the research and don't be afraid to reach out. I know it sounds cliche, but you know, in the initial efforts, we were willing and eager to talk to multiple brands that we felt were valuable to us and that we could provide value to because of their business model relative to amateur pickleball leagues, right? And so that's how, you know, I would answer that.

as it relates to, you know, with each of these sponsors, sometimes you've got to be comfortable with doing a trial run, a one season effort, right, to really show in an in-kind fashion the value exchange that happens. Once you really can prove and drive home the value exchange, then for the subsequent round of seasons, hopefully a potential longer term relationship, you can explore something a little bit deeper or more value-added.

Lance (43:01.802)

Aaron (43:03.426)
whether that is capital contribution or whether that is just a deeper in-kind relationship. But don't be afraid to start with an initial season, whether that's eight weeks, ten weeks, whatever it may be for each of these different league providers. And just be okay with exchanging in-kind relations with the hope, goal, and dream that you add enough value to that sponsor's...

business that then it can open itself up into something deeper and stronger.

Lance (43:33.859)
How do you prove that value? Are you looking at impressions on your site or click through rate or merchandise sold? Or does that just depend on the...

Aaron (43:42.954)
Depends on the sponsor right because every sponsor, you know, we work with some that are very B2B we work with some that are B2C, right? We work with some that are product-based some that are service based and so You know proving that value comes in a lot of different ways. It comes through social media activation. It comes through email activation It comes through, you know booth tent table brand activations on site It comes through the willingness to make introductions

to other relationships that you have to include our venue partners, right? Our local venue partners love the opportunity to get connected with national sponsors or in this instance, potential regional, local city sponsors as well to explore relations and then the sponsors in turn like to get connected with some of these local presences and so yeah, there's a lot of ways to skin the cat but yeah.

Lance (44:40.559)
Yeah, okay. Sweet, I think that's all I got. Thanks again, man. A lot of good nuggets in there that hopefully will be helpful for some people.

Aaron (44:49.034)
Yeah, no absolutely. Thanks for having me on and again whether it is helpful for some other league providers Hopefully there's a nugget or two in there that you can take apply or at least chew on and then iterate right I'd love to see the advancement of amateur league play. It's something people want And it's something that people need honestly and so Hopefully it is of value to some

Lance (45:00.103)
For sure.

Lance (45:14.447)
Yep, definitely is. Thanks Aaron, appreciate it.

Aaron (45:16.862)
Absolutely Lance, appreciate it. Thanks so much!


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