June 6, 2024

LI-Kick - Sold Out Podcast #7

Discover how LI-Kick transformed from a small kickball league into a vibrant, multi-sport community hub with thousands of participants, as Sal shares invaluable tips on creating engaging player experiences.

Back to all posts

Welcome to Episode #7 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 episode, Sal delves into the fascinating journey of how LI-Kick, a Long Island-based adult sports league, evolved from a modest kickball league into a thriving community hub offering ten different sports with thousands of participants annually. Sal shares insightful anecdotes about the origins of LI-Kick, emphasizing the unique social dynamics that make kickball an ideal sport for building connections. He discusses the critical role of league directors, the importance of maintaining high-quality games and equipment, and innovative strategies to keep participants engaged. Sal also highlights the broader impact of LI-Kick on participants' social lives, including numerous friendships and even engagements. This conversation provides a rich narrative on fostering community through sports and the strategic thinking behind growing a successful sports league.

Key Takeaways

  • Implementation of a scorecard system for league directors has ensured quality and improved the player experience.
  • ELO ratings have helped ensure fair and competitive games, leading to a more engaging experience for players.
  • The introduction of a semi-pro tournament series has provided a structured and competitive platform for players, enhancing the overall experience.
  • Community-building and player-focused experiences are essential for creating a successful and engaging sports league.

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 (00:00.896)
Alright, today we have Sal from LI Kick. Thanks for being here, Sal. Let's get started with, as always, the basics. Where are you located? What leagues are you running? How many teams on average do you have participating in any given season?

Sal (00:14.526)
Sure. So, LI Kick is on Long Island. It was started in 2013 as a adult kickball league, which is why it's called LI Kick. I did not think it'd turn into this 11 years later. I had just graduated college and I had moved into a house with two buddies and we were looking for things to do, but on Long Island it could be terribly difficult to meet new people and to penetrate new social groups.

We were living in the house for like six months thinking it'd be a second version of college, thinking that we'd have all these like friends and cool parties and we'd be the fun new guys in town. And after six months combined, we had made one friend and the friend that we made was kind of weird. So I kind of realized I needed to do something to go out and meet people. And I was looking for an adult kickball league because I went to college in upstate New York and I was so jealous of my friends that still lived in

Lance (00:59.196)
You

Sal (01:12.176)
Rochester. They basically were all renting houses and paying cheap rent and they were in a city and there was a lot of organizations and activities that were geared to like that young professional crowd. And on Long Island there was nothing like that. Long Island is all suburbs and it's very expensive and I was working a full -time job but I was still living at my parents house. Well I'd recently moved but I had been living my parents house when I first moved back.

And I just missed those connections of college, that after -college lifestyle. I missed the romance, the nightlife, all that stuff.

I wanted to join the kickball league because my friends in Rochester were playing one and one and they said it was so much fun But that didn't exist. So what I did was I basically on a whim out of desperation I emailed the parks director and I guess I was feeling emboldened because I just moved to a new town So I kind of felt like let me explore all these things

And I shot the idea to the parks director and she said, yeah, we could give it a shot. And I got super lucky that park structure. Her name is Darcy Belli. She's like one of my mentors and she is a huge, member of the origin story to LA kick. And we had 126 people that played in the spring of 2013 and everyone had a lot of fun. And I took the summer off and we came back in the fall and in the fall we had 14 teams. And then over time I've.

kind of added more sports and done more.

Sal (02:46.878)
more sports, more locations, and my mindset kind of shifted obviously from having this just be like a fun activity that I do to actually an organization that I want to grow and help nurture. So we had kickball and then soccer, cornhole, bowling, volleyball, dodgeball, pickleball, ultimate frisbee, darts, European handball. Altogether we run 10 total sports. We run year round.

and we serve about 16 ,000 league registrants over the calendar year. So it's...

Lance (03:22.4)
Is that 16 ,000 unique people or is that 16 ,000 registrations?

Sal (03:27.294)
This is registrations. So you might play year round and sign up for six seasons. So we're counting you as six registrations.

So, you know, after 11 years, this has been like so much fun. It's been incredibly personally rewarding. I have so many friends that I've met through this. My social calendar is now twice as full as ever was in college, you know, and definitely in those years after college when I was like really desperate for things to do. so it's really benefited me. I met my fiance through, L .I. kick. We've been engaged for one month and one day.

today.

And we're not even the most recent couple to get engaged anymore. There's another couple that met in LA Kick got engaged just a couple of days ago. And so they're, I'm LA Kick couple number 23. And we've had 24 people that have got 24 couples that have met in LA Kick who are now engaged. So I benefited from a lot. And I think a lot of people that play in LA Kick have also benefited from it greatly. They really have, it's really changed their social life and their social structure as well. So I'm just like super thrilled about it.

how it's going and I just want to keep riding this train forever.

Lance (04:39.712)
Yeah, I have never heard anybody mention number of couples. One time I think we did a survey of some of our registrants and found that the average person made six new friends, I think, whenever we did the survey playing in the league. And so you could see some of those connections. How do you even get that information? Do you just ping people or you just know a lot of the players?

Sal (04:58.046)
So yeah, I'm super, super involved.

in L .I. Kick. So I personally know a lot of the people. Our leagues are extremely face driven. So when you get to the league there's a league director there who's running your league and I am in constant contact with our league directors. So any of these things we kind of have our ear to the ground all the time. We also have a special section on our website which is dedicated to all those 24 couples. It's called from teammates to soulmates. So we honor all those couples there and whenever a new couple

Lance (05:20.16)
Hmm.

Sal (05:32.062)
There may be some couples that kind of did it on the sly or whatever, or maybe they met each other, and for whatever reason they haven't shared the news with us, but a lot of couples are happy to share the news of their engagement. They're pretty proud of that.

Lance (05:37.184)
Yeah.

Lance (05:46.816)
That's cool. Okay, well, I definitely want to ask more about that league director approach and the face and how you think about setting that up and the staffing. But maybe just kind of add some questions about that kind of the beginning is, you know, kickball, I've never played kickball myself. I've run soccer leagues, I've done basketball. What was it about kickball that made that a good first choice for what you're doing?

Sal (06:10.718)
Yeah, so in my opinion, kickball is like one of the best social sports out there. It's a sport that can be played co -ed and it can be played at different levels. So whether you have a lot of athletic background or a little bit athletic background, it's a pretty fun game to play.

Lance (06:20.992)
Hmm.

Sal (06:29.374)
You know, I've done softball before and it's pretty embarrassing to strike out in slow pitch softball. And it's really embarrassing to lose 30 to zero, which could easily happen in softball. But kickball, the game is a lot more friendlier to new players. And we do have some really top team, top tier players also, but it's got a really easy entry level.

Lance (06:51.136)
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Sal (06:51.198)
and it's a fun game to play outside. And it also has a great social scene. When you do flag football or you do softball, you may have the two teams show up.

and I hang out in the parking lot with my team and you hang out in the parking lot with your team. During the game, I want to kick your butt and I want to win as much as possible. And then after the game, we go home and go our separate ways. For whatever reason, kickball is such a social sport, you might go play for an hour. And then after the game, you're at the bar with...

50 people wearing LA Kick shirts and you guys are all friends and No one's really sitting by themselves. It's easy just to walk up to someone who's wearing an LA Kick shirt That's and say to them. Hey, you know, how did your game go tonight without even really knowing their name? It's it's pretty easy and pretty social so you might play kickball for an hour Then go to the bar for three hours after that. We also have something called bar champs So if you lose all your kickball games, you could still be a winner by competing in the bar champs competition So you get points for every every member of your team?

that goes to the bar to get points and then your league directors organizing bar games as well. So you might lose on the field but then become a winner at the bar. So it's got a great mix of a social aspect and then an ease of play. So it's kickball to me is such like an ideal sport for social sports.

Lance (08:06.528)
Yeah.

Lance (08:12.032)
Yeah, that's cool. I never heard of that bar point. That sounds clever. So that beginning though sounds interesting to me, like how you got, so you emailed Parks and Direct director and you're like, I want a space. I want to maybe do kickball. And she was like, sure, we can help you out. We can give you a space. And then you got more than a hundred people to show up like right off the bat, which how did you pull that off? Was that advertising? Was it through like their email list or how did you?

Sal (08:36.734)
Right. So I often compare starting a sports league to the fish a million years ago that grew legs, crawled onto the earth, and then evolved.

because it really required me to catch lightning in a bottle. I was living with two of my buddies at the time and we kind of just figured, hey, let's just start this sports league. We'll message all of our friends. They'll message all of our friends. And then within three weeks, we'll have a hundred people that play. And we did that and we got like nine people to play. It was so much harder than I thought. But my fish -scrown legs moment...

Lance (09:19.008)
to see our head.

Sal (09:25.342)
was that in 2013, there was a company called Living Social that was extremely popular. And they were like a group on, and there was another competitor called Amazon Local. And they had just launched and they were so popular. And basically you would subscribe to Living Social, and then every morning, you'd get a list of today's deals. And it would have...

five local deals that might be like half off of a restaurant or a buy one get one ticket to the movies. So L .I. Kit got onto those deal websites and all those deal websites are gone. Living Social and Amazon Local are gone. Groupon is not nearly what it used to be. But in 2013, those were huge. So a lot of our players came from Living Social. So I'm so thankful for Darcy and I'm so thankful that my timing was just right because my desire was to

Lance (09:54.24)
Thanks for watching!

Mm.

Sal (10:17.232)
was always there, but the success is at the intersection of your desire and a little bit of your timing. So I got super lucky. I don't know how I would do it nowadays if I didn't, you know, based on what I had in 2013, I don't know how I would have done it. But the thing was that it was fun. And then pizza, so people stuck around. So when the deal websites died off,

we had our player base there and then they tell their friends because they want to play and they want to have fun with their friends. So those players then kind of do your word of mouth for you. But because you put it together a solid league, we were able to take that lightning in a bottle and keep it going for 11 years.

Lance (10:58.656)
Yeah, that's interesting. I think probably a lot of the reason those sites don't exist is because people don't stick around. Like they get some amazing deal and then they just move on to some other deal. And so that's interesting that you guys were able to make it stick. I mean, what was the key to that? I mean, how did you make sure that it was a great experience? Obviously you were probably out there and talking to people and all that, but were there some fundamentals of like, this is how we're going to execute this to make sure people love it and tell their friends? And does that still translate to today? Like kind of foundational values or anything?

Sal (11:28.094)
Yeah, I think that's there. It's hard to really describe what it is, but for our demographic, people are looking for something to do that's fun. And they're able to see their friends on a weekly basis. They're able to meet people and make new friends. They're able to also potentially meet someone in an organic way. And I think people are all looking to do those things, but the structure...

Lance (11:32.96)
Mm.

Sal (11:57.022)
for those is not really there. Some people talk about like the phrase of a third place. And I guess 50 years ago there were social clubs and there were college alumni groups. But now between work and your house, there aren't really these hangout areas. So LA KICK is now moving into those areas where people are coming to us for play and community, to meet people, to have fun.

Lance (12:06.464)
Mm -hmm.

Sal (12:25.598)
And we've pretty consistently have provided or pretty reliably have provided that because our leagues run year round. So people can just join, meet people and then keep that going. And then they could try a different sport or different night or different location that they want. So I would say just like the core of what we are serves that human need. And we've done it in a very reliable way over that time.

Lance (12:51.168)
Is that what you would say part of the main key is like just just do it and be reliable or like what's what's the key for you guys to like? Because I mean I guess you're saying there's not a lot of other places to go and hang out and I think that makes a ton of sense But there are probably other leagues that people could join So do you think about how to make your league special so that people want to play with you more than other and like what what's what's your thing?

Sal (13:11.294)
Well, yeah, it's gotta be fun. And, you know, I don't view our competitors necessarily as other sports leagues. There's just so many things that are gonna compete for people's time nowadays. So I say that our biggest competitor is like Netflix, because we have to make sure that our leagues are gonna be worth someone wanting to get in their car, drive, spend an hour or two with us and drive home when they could just order in and watch Netflix at their house.

Lance (13:26.272)
Yeah.

Sal (13:38.974)
What we do to make that so special, it's kind of hard to say, but we provide a really reliable game. We provide, I would say quality games, quality opponents, quality equipment, quality locations, and we've cultivated an awesome community as well. So I think people want to be a part of that. And when it's not around and we are in our off weeks, it's pretty common for people to...

organize their own meetups. We have people that go to Mets games and Yankee games together. They celebrate their birthdays with LA Kick friends on the weekends. They'll go bar hopping with LA Kick friends on the weekends. So I think because we provide a way for people to be with their friends in a pretty cost effective manner, it keeps people engaged and wanting to keep playing. And then because you provide close games and quality equipment, they stick around.

Lance (14:32.16)
Yeah, that makes sense. Well, you and you've mentioned two things that are about that quality. One is the league director approach, the face approach, which it sounds like you feel is a little bit different than what some other leagues do. And then there's the ELO rating and that's a common thread among, you know, the people we see that are successful. They care a lot about competitive balance and making sure there is that good matchup and people aren't getting blown out. So maybe you could talk about those two things, the league directors and then the ELO rating, how you came to that.

Sal (15:01.982)
Right, yeah. We really, really care about the player experience. And we really want our players to know that we really care that they're having a great time. So, one thing when we started L .I. Kick is that we decided we're going to be very, very face -driven. All of our leagues have league directors. These are people who have probably played in your league for 10 seasons already, that they really love what they're doing and they care about it so much that they decided they wanted to work for L .I. Kick.

Lance (15:25.152)
Hmm.

Sal (15:30.398)
So every week they send out a weekly email with all the updates. They give you the scores, the schedule, the standings. They have a little paragraph about what to expect. They include a feature on the team of the week. We also have a rotating section where they'll focus on meet a rookie, meet a veteran who's celebrating their one year anniversary with LI kick, which we call a kick -aversary. They talk about their plans for the upcoming season. So the league director is cultivating the community.

so we decided that we'd be very very face driven and Pretty much everyone knows who their league director is and we try and make that job fun and try and make them feel like a mini celebrity so we don't just rely on umpires to Report the scores to us and show up with the equipment We do have league directors who there and then they organize bar games Not every sport has bar games like in soccer people only really want to play soccer But for a lot of our sports we do provide

Lance (16:12.)
Hmm.

Sal (16:27.422)
other type of like adjacent entertainment like the bar games. So that's one approach that we definitely took is to try and build up the community and I challenge all of our league directors to really meet all the players in their leagues too. The other thing you mentioned was... Go on.

Lance (16:42.368)
Yeah, that... Well, before we go to the ELO, because there's just a lot that's really interesting about what you're saying. I feel like hiring has been difficult for me in the past, trying to find the right kind of person that can... We call them commissioners instead of league directors. But all the things you're doing, it sounds like you're empowering them and getting them to do a lot and create a lot of value. How do you find these people? You said they've been... Often they're in the league for 10 years. And then how do you...

incentivize them to actually be such critical, you know, it sounds like they're doing a lot. So it's probably not just, you know, I guess there's, you're saying you make them feel like celebrities and then obviously there's some sort of compensation. Are there tips for how to find great people and get them to do such great work?

Sal (17:27.39)
Yeah, our league directors are rock stars. And I say the number one job of a league director, or the number one requirement, is to love LA Kick and really live it and benefit from it. So we have league directors who are among those 24 couples that have met their spouse playing LA Kick. So these people have been a part of it. They love it. They understand the mission of it. They believe in it. And they've personally benefited from it. So they really believe in our mission.

Lance (17:47.232)
Mm.

Sal (17:55.87)
And then I view my job as making it as easy as possible for league directors to do their jobs. So some of their pain points might include writing the email, which is, you know, that is a little annoying to have to write a lengthy and informative email. So we create a template for them that has as much as possible in there. So they just have to change over a few things to make that information accurate to their league. So we try and take as much off of their plate as we can.

so they can go out there, have fun, be the face of the league, and then my job is to make their job as easy as possible.

Lance (18:31.968)
Got it. And then it gets a little tactical, but are you paying them like a weekly rate for what they're doing or is it like a percent of revenue? I think we've tried, I think, percent of revenue, like number of teams that are out there just so that if they can help grow the league, they get a little bit more money. Are you doing anything similar or how do you think about pay?

Sal (18:50.142)
Right, so league directors get a stipend and the stipend is based on how many seasons they've been lead directing for. So it's based on their experience. We've thought about the model of paying by like league size or a couple different ways, but because there's so many variables and like a cornhole league that has 10 teams and takes two hours versus a kickball league that has

Lance (18:58.688)
I don't know. Pretender.

Sal (19:18.942)
10 teams and take two hours, that might be only like 30 cornhole players or 200 kickball players. We just decided that we're just gonna make every payment the same and sometimes you'll win on that, sometimes you'll lose on that, but that's just the standard that we decided to go with.

Lance (19:39.072)
Got it. Yeah, and then I guess my next question is, you know, it's good in theory to have this role dialed in of like, here's what I want a lead director to do, and you find somebody that seems to fit the bill. But how do you, and maybe this isn't as much of a problem now, but maybe in the beginning, how do you ensure that they're doing what you want them to do? I mean, it's easy to see if they sent the email, the newsletter, but in terms of like being the kind of role that you want them to be where it sounds like they're probably pretty social, they greet everybody, they probably know a lot of people by name.

Like how do you encourage that? And have you ever had that go wrong where somebody ended up just sort of not doing those kinds of things and you had to let somebody go or kind of how do you think about enforcing feels like a strong word for something that's community driven, but yeah, how do you, I guess enforce them actually or ensure that they do a really good job week in and week out?

Sal (20:25.918)
Right, right. Okay, I'll try and hit on a couple points here. Yeah, we do have 41 current leagues. So obviously, I can't beat all these leagues. On a Tuesday night, we might have 10 different leagues happening. So I'll never beat all of them. So the people that we hire, they've been playing LA Kick for a while. So we do usually have personal relationships with them. So, you know, that's a really strong start. And when we do that, I don't have to do a lot of...

I have to do training on how to enter scores onto our website and how to use our technology, but I don't have to do the training of how we run our sports leagues because they've played in the league for eight seasons now. One of the sayings that I use is that you can hire someone who's a five out of 10 and then train them up and make them a 10 out of 10, but for me, I'd rather just start with someone who's coming in as a nine out of 10.

then just train them to be a 10 out of 10 and kind of shortcut that. So the people that play in our league or the people that run our leagues are really fantastic people. So we've started out really good there. We do also have a couple of, you know, we have something called a scorecard that basically ensures the scorecard answer or the scorecard is a series of questions and it just basically answers.

question of is a league director doing what they should be that week that week. So on the scorecard which comes out every Friday we basically say you know one of the things is attendance was this was a league director there right did they send out their email and was it on time did their email include the section shout out where they shouted out a veteran or rookie or someone like that were their scores updated on time did they have a bar game that week did they pay their umpires and record their umpires properly.

So every Friday we put out the scorecard and the majority, I say on the scorecard, you should be at 75 % or better. And the majority of league directors are over 90%. So that means that they're doing all that they should be doing. Now I don't really know at the very grassroots level, like are they having the exact conversations with people or what their conversations are and what they're really doing like for their two hours of their league night, but.

Lance (22:44.864)
Mm.

Sal (22:46.622)
I've trusted my league directors that they're gonna do the right thing because I've known them for so long. So the scorecard keeps everybody, you know, that moves us along, which is really nice. It also is going to indicate when people are struggling and we have had to let people go and you know, you kind of have that feeling that things aren't working out sometimes. And then the scorecard is a data that reveals it. So when someone calls out once, you say, okay, whatever.

They call out a second time and you go, all right. They call it a third time. Then you could see, wow, this person called out three times and the average person doesn't call out any times at all or their email is consistently late. Those are the little things that let you know that trouble is brewing and it kind of backs up your gut instinct.

Lance (23:35.456)
Got it. So a big part of it, you said like hiring somebody that's nine out of 10, it's a requirement for you that they've played, you said they've played like eight seasons on average or something. So is that a requirement?

Sal (23:43.934)
Yeah, I've only hired one person ever that was a brand new league director that have joined with no experience prior. The person I hired, they end up doing a great job. It's just a lot more work that I'm required to train that person up. But the majority of people that are league directors, they have been playing with us for a while. And they do it because they believe in the mission.

Lance (24:07.904)
And then that's.

Yeah, and then that scorecard, you say it goes out, is it just, you just send it to them and say, hey, here's your scorecard, or is this public?

Sal (24:17.246)
We have a slack channel just for league directors and every Friday I do the same exact work every Friday I send out a weekly email I update some documents about the umpires We prepare the email template for the next week and then we send out the scorecard which basically is all the data points and all together the scorecard is like 250 data points because there's 41 leagues and each league has up to nine data points so

Lance (24:21.44)
god.

Sal (24:45.918)
That's maybe it's closer to 300 then. So these are all the things that the league directors are going to do and it's either going to be green that they successfully did it or it's going to be red that it wasn't successfully done and that basically, you know, and that so instead of me having to check every morning if scores are updated and then go back and forth with people to get their scores in.

scorecard comes out and they either get a green or a red for the scores and that takes a lot of the runaround away from me which when you have 41 leagues there's a lot of things to run around you know you'll chase your tail all day long if you if you let yourself do that and you'll never move on to higher level work so the scorecard has been super helpful I got that from a book called traction which is one of the best books I've ever read and I try and implement more ideas of traction into our organization too.

Lance (25:31.36)
Mm -hmm.

Lance (25:38.304)
That's great. And that scorecard, all of the league directors can see what everybody's score is in that thing.

Sal (25:44.83)
Yes, yeah, and then scorecard the league directors they get a bonus so they get they get their stipend But if their scorecard meets a certain threshold, then they receive a bonus at the end of the year for every Every score every season that they've completed they receive an additional bonus based on their scorecard also So if you're doing your job, well, it's kind of just like second nature to get all greens but sometimes If people are slacking or if they're struggling

Lance (25:50.784)
out.

Sal (26:13.086)
It also gives you an early warning system.

Lance (26:16.224)
Awesome, okay. That's...

Sal (26:17.886)
And it all comes down to the player experience too, because the players, they want to know what their standing is after the games, especially in a sport like cornhole or pickleball, where you play like four or five games a night and you can have big jumps in the standings. So they want, like I know, cause I play in a pickleball league and when I get home, the first thing I do is I check the standings to see where I am. So like players, I want to have the same person show up. They want to be part of a community. They want to be featured in the email. They want to check out the scores.

They want to make sure that their games have an umpire. And so the scorecard is really from the perspective of the player to judge their player experience. And if it's all green, then I can only assume that we're doing all the things right for the player to have a great season.

Lance (27:04.512)
Yeah, that makes sense. So that's the league director part, which makes it kind of sense how you're delivering a great experience. There's kind of a lot that you're doing there. And then the other piece we mentioned was the ELO rating. So yeah, can you talk about that and how you... Is that for all leagues that you're doing that? Did you ever do like normal divisions or how does that originate?

Sal (27:23.934)
I'm gonna I'm gonna mumble my way through this one because Elo is a lot and there's a lot of different Angles I could approach this from but Elo is a rating system that should Address the quality of wins. So we've started in pickleball where in pickleball you might play play four games and in pickleball it's very important to have people that are at your level and in all sports it's important to play close games because I

It's no fun to win 10 -0 or to lose 10 -0. So to have close games, we decided it was very important to us. You want to have a challenging game. So in Pickleball, we would group the league of maybe 40 people. We would group the top four people together on court one and they would all have close games. But at the end of the night, one of those players would go, and four. Unfortunately, someone has to lose these games. So then based on their record,

they'd be dropped all the way down and some player who played on the worst court and won all their games would then be 4 -0 and they'd be promoted to that top court. And then that would be no fun and everyone knew that was the wrong way to do it. So we did some research and then we implemented ELO into Pickleball. So what ELO does is it gives you a points or takes away points based on the quality of your win, respective to what the...

outcome should have been. So if you are a poor team that beats a poor team, you get a set number of points. But if you're a poor team that beats a team that's much more higher than you, you'll have a big jump in your ELO points. And the same is true for the reverse. So basically, when we decided now to import this to kickball, and all of our sports, they have ELO ratings, all of our teams have an ELO rating.

But for pickleball and kickball, we actually don't rank people straight up by their wins and losses. We rank them by their ELO rating. And in kickball, it became important too, because again, close games are very important, but we want to play a lot of games. And when a win is worth the same, whether you beat the top team or the bottom team, it incentivizes people to play, to want to play.

Sal (29:49.438)
as easy as a schedule as possible. So you might want to play the teams who are ranked last so you can rack up all these wins, but that's not all that fun for you because then you're not playing competitive games. So now the ELO system allows you to have an appropriately hard schedule with an appropriately hard or appropriately fair reward. So if you play tough teams, you won't be penalized for losing as much as you will for

for losing against, if you play tough teams and lose, you'll be penalized less than you would if you lost to a poor team. And if you beat bad teams, you only gain a small jump in your ELO. But if you beat a good team, you have a big jump in your ELO. So it also kind of, you know, I'm pretty happy with the way it's going. ELO has allowed us to do a lot of other things too, and it solved a lot of problems. And ELO does have its critiques.

But every league needs to have some system and every league will have its pros and cons. The old way we used to do things is we've done division one, division two, where in a six team league, we could take the top six teams and put them in D1 and the bottom six teams and put them in D2. But the problem was usually teams five and six and sometimes four and sometimes even team three, they say we don't belong in division one.

We're not, we're gonna lose to all these teams. We don't wanna be in division one. We're a social team. But I need to have six teams there because team one and two need to have opponents. So usually team six would go, would not win a game and be unhappy. And then in the B division, the team that would win it all would then say, well, what do you mean we're not the league champion? We won all of our games. Like we should be the champion. So people were not happy with divisions.

If you only have a seven game season and you do a random schedule for a large league, then you could have some team with a weak schedule jump in and people weren't crazy about that. And then, so the ELO allows us to have, you know, it allows us to be divisionless. And when you're divisionless, other benefits could happen too. So we don't have to worry and make these judgment calls and condemn people to division one or division two.

Sal (32:12.03)
We're also able to have divisions of any size now. So we used to only have even divisions and I'd have to turn teams away. Say if I had 11 teams or 10 teams and a team wanted to join, I have to say I can only take you if we get a 12th team. But now with 11 teams, I could just schedule games all the time because you're not condemned, you're not constrained by a set schedule. So.

Like for example, if there's only six teams in your division, you basically would play every team in the division once, you'd play a five game season, and then you'd have your one or two weeks of playoffs. But now with ELO, if I have additional field space, which we often do, I can schedule teams, double headers, and way more games, because the number of games that they play is not really relevant. It all comes down to what their ending ELO is.

So we've been able to schedule teams a lot more games, which people may be resistant to ELO at first, but then when you see the benefit of them playing a lot more closer games, competitive games, a lot more games in total, they're being scheduled for double headers, that has a benefit also too. So the benefits of going to ELO and kickball is that we are now completely unbounded and unconstrained by divisions and a normal schedule. We're able to get people closer games.

and we're able to schedule people more games. And if a team has to forfeit, and we no longer need to just give a forfeit win, a 10 -0 forfeit win, and say to the team, sorry, you don't have an opponent, we could just grab another team and say, hey, stick around for a double header. A team no showed, you'll play a second game, and then everybody gets a relevant game that's gonna be impactful on their standings. So we're really...

really leaning into it. We did it with pickleball last year and we're doing with kickball now and I'm really really happy with the way that it's going. It's giving us a lot of flexibility.

Lance (34:12.32)
Yeah, that's interesting. I think I can mention before we talked that we did ELO and there's also, like you said, there's some drawbacks to them, curious, because like the scenario you said where you have those top six teams, if you do the ELO rating, I mean, either those top six teams are going to play each other or they're going to play people way below. And like the benefit is that, you know, five and six will play one and two in the bottom division. And you could almost make a subdivision there where they're probably pretty close. But often what would happen for us is that you would also have a hard time not getting some of the top teams.

to play teams in the lower division? Because like one and two, they're either gonna play three, four, five, and six, or if they're not all grouped together in a division, one and two might end up playing number seven, eight, nine, 10, or at least that was a challenge, so you would have super blowouts if you allowed that to happen. So let's start with that question, because I have a couple more.

Sal (35:01.726)
Okay, cool. So what we're doing now is that we want people to play more kickball. So now we're scheduling more, because we're unbounded by ELO, we're scheduling more games for teams, which does mean double headers, because if you're gonna play a six, seven, eight game regular season, it's kind of farcical for team one to play nine. Everyone knows what's gonna happen when one plays nine and they don't really need to play each other. So now we're going a lot of double headers.

So that one team in their season, they might play team number two twice, team number three twice, team number four twice, and then team five and six once. And in the past, teams used to complain because they would say, it's unfair, I have to play the best team twice, and they would get two losses. They'd wanna play the lesser teams. But now teams are understanding that if I play the best team and lose,

It's the penalty isn't as bad as a binary loss as opposed to the other system where it's just one win or one loss. That's it. Now, because it's an ELO system, they may have that loss, but it's really not going to hurt their rating because they're supposed to lose to that team. So because of the ELO, we're now doing more games, more double headers and less constraints. And those are leading to closer games also.

Lance (36:21.024)
Yeah, it softens the blow for that loss. But like you just said, that was the dilemma we ran into is that no matter whether it softens the blow for your ranking or not, you still don't want blowouts. And so we would do what you just said, which is like you would play, like number one would play number two and three and four more often than they would five and six. But then we got feedback that people didn't like playing the same teams all the time. Do you ever get feedback?

of that nature of like, I just played this team last week, like I don't want to keep playing, even though that's technically the only one of the very few matchups that makes any sense because they're similar skill rating. Has that been pushback that you've received or not really?

Sal (36:59.454)
So yeah, so in our scheduling guidelines, we have a no triples policy. So you won't play the same team three times in a regular season. You can play them twice. And it didn't want most of our leagues are six or seven weeks. So once you get to week six, sometimes it does get extremely complex finding suitable matchups, not just for one team, but especially when you apply that to like 12 teams, it does get kind of difficult to find suitable matchups. But

Lance (37:04.704)
Mmm.

Sal (37:29.182)
Like I said, everything has a benefit and a decline. So, in this benefit, the benefit is you'll have closer games. And if you want to play the team that's ranked like eighth to play new people, like we can do that, but they have to understand that the eighth place team, A, doesn't really want to play them. And do you want to have a close game or do you want to have a game against new people? Because unfortunately, you can't have both in this scenario.

Lance (37:32.448)
That wasn't calm.

Lance (37:57.792)
Yeah.

Sal (37:58.91)
If there was a thousand teams you could probably do that, but if there's 10 or 12 teams in the league, you can't have it both ways, so.

Lance (38:08.064)
And then, so how do you, are you scheduling weekly then? Because the starting, first off, how do you know what their starting ELO is? But then also, if they're being adjusted over time, back when we did this, we had like a four week increment where we would try to adjust schedules, but like by the end of the season, the rankings might be really different. So how do you schedule? I guess you don't do it all upfront, right?

Sal (38:28.958)
Yeah, so right. So we import the ELOs from the previous season. So if a roster has 50%, 50 .1 % of the same, if a team has 50 .1 % of the same roster, we'll import their ELO. If they don't, then we'll reset them to like the league median ELO. So we kind of know what the teams are going to become, where they'll stack up in the beginning of the season. And then we do the schedule on a weekly basis. One of our advantages is that all of our leagues meet at the same place.

Lance (38:34.624)
Thank you.

Lance (38:43.072)
Lance (38:46.816)
Mmm.

Sal (38:57.15)
at the same time every week. So you might, you'll know that you're playing kickball next week at seven o 'clock at this field. And the field itself has like six subdivided fields. So you'll know you'll be at the same location, but your opponent at a weekly basis is not set. So when the league director is one of their things on their scorecard is that the night of they add their scores.

Lance (38:59.648)
Mm.

Sal (39:23.038)
And then they also add the next week schedule. So that gives people seven days to see who their weekly opponent is. But yeah, we don't schedule a full season. We do schedule week by week.

Lance (39:35.456)
Cool, okay. Sweet, well that's like super interesting. I think maybe some people will find that, because there's like pros and cons, it's two very different systems. The normal is just divisions and scheduling within that, but I love the innovation. But since we're kind of right up against the...

Sal (39:48.35)
Right. Yeah, and it requires like an algorithm. It gets like pretty complicated. And it's hard to explain to someone because someone might see a team as three wins and another team has five wins. And the three win team is rated higher than the five win team. And someone who's a novice, they might just look at this and they go, well, this is stupid. But they have to understand that the team that played that has three wins has played a significantly harder schedule.

Lance (39:53.984)
Yeah. Yeah. Right. Yeah.

Lance (40:12.256)
Yeah.

Sal (40:18.398)
and they've secured wins that were significantly greater than the team that has only five. So overall, I think people understand, well, there's a rating thing, but I think people really want to play more kickball. They want to play close games and ELO is the best way to achieve that right now.

Lance (40:36.512)
Yeah, no, that's great. Yeah, we did have that problem as well when we did ELO's. And it was also because we had this subscription model with four -week seasons and whatever else, but it added up to kind of a confusing thing for customers. And too much confusion at a certain point obviously becomes a hindrance to trying to grow.

Sal (40:53.342)
Right, it's a little bit of sorcery involved in it. So people have, if you keep the system the same, hopefully they're gonna grow to trust it. And provide guidelines as to how it works and then how we schedule. Those are nice to have.

Lance (41:02.72)
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Makes sense.

Lance (41:10.656)
Yeah, totally. Okay, so since we're a little bit up against time, I think you had a couple things you wanted to talk about as well, or the new in town, the semi pro, did you want to cover those?

Sal (41:22.27)
Yeah, sure. Yeah. So, you know, semi pro is another thing that's been, we've added this year, which has been in response to player wants. So people, they want to play more kickball. They want to play close games. Another thing people want to do is play with their friends. And we let people play with their friends all the time, whenever they want, you know, and that's, that's every league does that. But what happens then is eventually all the friends eventually consolidate.

into there's basically only one or two teams that have a legit chance of winning it. A third team has an outside chance. Everybody who's foreign down knows they have no chance. And then all your new players that join get fed to the wolves against all these teams that have been around for so many, so many seasons. So, you know, that's the weekly league play. And we let people play with their friends all the time. But at the end of every year,

For the month of November, we do something called our draft league. And people unanimously agree that our draft season is their favorite season. Because you've been playing for six months with the same people. Then November comes along. We literally have a draft just like the NBA does. And you play with a new team for four weeks. And those teams are always extremely even. It allows you to play with new people. And it's a great entry for new players because of them being, instead of them being stuck with.

Lance (42:25.024)
Hmm.

Sal (42:46.591)
novices now they can play with anyone who's on their team who's usually veterans. The problem is though if I offered a draft season now people wouldn't choose it because their main desire is to play with their friends. So I kind of combined those two thoughts and for this year we started a new offering called Semi Pro which is our which is a very structured tournament series which kind of emulates professional sports. So players joined and it's basically like a seven month

Lance (43:00.992)
Mmm.

Sal (43:16.798)
seven tournament draft tournament where players and join semi pro and they were drafted onto six different franchises and every tournament that we have a new crop of people are welcome to join and they'll try and get drafted on and we've had our first two so far and it has been so extremely fun it is like my preferred way to play out play it we do it on a friday night because we don't have regular programming on a friday so everybody is free on friday

Lance (43:37.856)
Mm.

Sal (43:47.198)
We play under, we play on a lighted turf field, which is kind of like the highest standard that we have here. Nobody has worked the next day and we have six franchises that are all extremely even. Every team that plays, they think they have a chance to win it. Like it's that even, even the team that's in last place, you know, they realize that they're just one or two players away. And then after every tournament, more players that want to join are then drafted on. And just like when Patrick Mahomes was,

drafted to the NFL, he didn't say, I went to college with this guy. I want to go play for the Patriots or I'm going to go play for the Cowboys. He had to go to Kansas city and, and, you know, he had to start his way from the bottom and that keeps everything very even. So the worst team gets the draft, gets the first draft pick and we do this for kickball and it's a huge hit. We also do this for dodgeball and it's just as much fun. And I am so excited to keep this going for this full year and see where it takes us.

Lance (44:47.744)
That is super cool, that's so creative. So these teams are staying sort of together, but then they get to draft by rank order, so the number six team gets to draft first. But it's mostly the same players from like the previous tournament, and then maybe people drop.

Sal (45:01.15)
Right, so you belong to your franchise for the full year. So you're drafted by this team, you belong to them. And then every tournament, as we meet new people and new people see what Semi Pro is, they want to join and then they get drafted onto a franchise. So that's how the worst team improves. And that prevents a situation like league play where, and league play this happens sometimes too. The first place team and the second place team, sometimes they even combine.

and then they have one super team. In semi -pro, it's very structured, so that can never happen, and it keeps things very even. And when it's even, people feel like they have a really fair game, they get really invested into it, and it's been a ton of fun.

Lance (45:47.712)
That's very, very cool. I imagine they get into their logos and colors and stuff as well because it's a franchise -like team and all that, probably.

Sal (45:54.11)
Right, and yeah, they actually usually get to get a regular t -shirt for them. But for this, we have upgraded shirts that cost a lot of money that have a full sublimated design. People are so into it. It's, you know, it's really, really an exciting thing. It's becoming a lot of people's preferred way to play. Because when you do the weekly league, it's fun. But like when you really get amped up for this tournament, when anything could happen, and all these games are very close and we have a great prize. People take home a...

championship belt or like a big chain and they wear the chain and it's it's people really really want want to win that and it's just I mean the prize is one thing but people want to win it because they want to be known for winning our toughest tournament and it's very exciting.

Lance (46:38.08)
Yeah, yeah. Does it all happen in one night on one Friday night or does it happen over a few Friday nights or?

Sal (46:43.678)
Yeah, well, yeah, every tournament is takes place in a four hour span. So what happens is you play your three pool play games and then it goes to playoffs. And then in the championship game, there's only one game being played and that's being played in front of a big audience because all the eliminated players, they stick around to watch. So for the championship game, it's such a great vibe. It's played like Friday night, 10 o 'clock at night underneath the lights and the sidelines are just

filled with people, because there's spectators that are coming, and then all the eliminated players are sticking around, because they don't have to leave early, they don't have work or they don't have any reason to leave, and all their friends are playing, so it's such a great vibe.

Lance (47:25.376)
That's really, really cool. Wow, I love that.

Sal (47:27.774)
Yeah, I'm so happy that the idea is taken off the way it has.

Lance (47:32.)
Yeah, yeah, I love it. Sweet, okay, I think that's all the questions that I have. I know you, yeah, we kinda talked about most of the things you wanted to talk about. There's also the L .I. kick around the world, what I thought was interesting, 445 trips to 76 countries and all 50 states. So yeah, it sounds like you're doing an awesome job building a brand that people really connect with and wanna represent. So yeah.

Sal (47:55.71)
Yeah, we really try and build a community, not just a sports league, because anybody could throw out a bunch of softballs or put lines on a field. But we try and build a community that's really fun and build an awesome group of people that play and party together. And like I said before, I personally enjoy it and I personally benefited from it. And I hope everyone that joins L .I .K. can benefit from themselves the way that I benefited from it.

Lance (48:22.528)
Yeah, totally. Awesome. Okay, well thanks for your time, Sal.

Sal (48:25.534)
Thank you. Thank you, Lance.

Lance (48:28.32)
Yeah.

Ready?

The AREENA app and leagues offer an immersive rec sports experience for adults, with stat tracking, skill matching, leaderboards and team messaging. Subscribe and play soccer or basketball year round, or pay by game or match with zero commitments.