March 13, 2020, was easily the hardest day of my career. On the first of what would be many zoom video calls in the year ahead, (I was in Mexico for my daughter’s grade 12 grad trip), I had to inform our 40 full-time teammates they were being placed on temporary layoff until we had a better sense of how long our adult sports league operations would be shut down for. Never did I imagine that 12 months later our sports leagues, doing 8 figure revenues and getting 150,000 people off the couch and playing annually would still be non-operational. Further, never could I have imagined that anything positive would have come out of not being allowed to operate our sports league business for 12 months.
April through August our organization was in complete turmoil, panic, and uncertainty. We were in ‘war’ mode. The majority of our team were on reduced salaries and hours and our customers were confused, some angry but thankfully the majority were understanding and patient. I personally was working non-stop and with many critical issues to focus on, and I did a poor job as a leader of prioritizing culture which we had worked so hard for 25 years to ensure was stellar. During this time, we all worked incredibly hard at innovating new ways to generate revenue in order to keep our beloved Sport & Social Group alive. Overall, ours was a stressful team to be on with not a lot of fun being had by anyone.
By early fall, realizing one of our attempts at innovation – online virtual games helping corporate teams connect through play – was really taking off, we decided it was time to launch a rebrand of this new vertical as “JAM”. Many of our full-time SSG teammates moved into new roles supporting JAM and we excitedly hired an amazing group of new JAM hosts (most of whom are out of work actors and comedians). It is incredible to note that in the last 10.5 months, our team has produced over 1000 virtual events, connecting over 50,000 participants through play in 20 different countries and we are on track to hit 7 figures in revenue in our first 12 months of operating our new ‘pandemic pivot’ of JAM.
The best part of all this is that by staying true to our core purpose of “connecting people through play” with our creation of JAM, we have created over 40 new part-time jobs, we are helping company teams to make time for play and laughter and when we are allowed to get people playing team sports again, we will have two businesses to work on growing, our B2C sports league business and our B2B virtual and IRL events business – all with a focus of connecting people through play. With new ways to help keep people playing, we will be able to achieve our vision of “1 million people playing annually” that much sooner!
Twelve months to the day later, I am filled with incredible gratitude for my fabulous team as I look back on March 13th, 2020, and feel so proud of how we worked as a true team in facing the challenges we were forced to deal with. We will be stronger in the long run.