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Greenville Business Magazine

Jumping on the BANDWAGON

Aug 31, 2017 08:02AM ● By Emily Stevenson
For rabid college football fans, there’s nothing worse than getting to your seat in the stadium only to find that your neighbors are wearing the opposing team’s colors.

One Upstate entrepreneur is working to change that.

Harold Hughes, founder of BANDWAGON, was working full-time and earning his MBA in the evenings at Clemson’s downtown Greenville campus. In his last course, a strategic management class, the students were presented with case studies and instructed to make decisions based on how they would react as the CEO in that case. Hughes did so well in the class that he began to toss around the idea of opening his own company. He knew he wanted a business that connected people and created a sense of community. Sports, he says, were a natural fit.

“I look at sports as the great unifier,” Hughes says. “You see an atheist beside a Catholic person. You see a Ph.D. high-fiving a high school dropout. When the game-winning touchdown comes from your star quarterback, nothing else really matters. I wanted to create something that helps foster that relationship.”

BANDWAGON, which incorporated on May 11, 2014, is a sports technology company. Its website uses data to help fans and teams optimize their game experience. For fans, that means helping them find seats to fit their needs.

“I know now that some people want a family-friendly atmosphere where their kids won’t learn any new words,” Hughes laughs. “You also have people who want to enjoy a game at Death Valley in September and maybe want a seat in the shade.”

During Clemson’s 2014 football season, Hughes scoured Internet message boards and brokered deals between individuals looking to buy tickets and individuals looking to sell, driving across the Upstate to deliver the tickets from one location to another. It was a lot of work, but Hughes says the payoff was worth it.

“It was important for me to get in front of people and see why they weren’t using Stubhub, why they weren’t using these places,” Hughes says. “That person would rather not use the tickets at all rather than have them fall into the hands of an away team. That’s when I realized we were on to something.”

Hughes continued to work on BANDWAGON while also working full-time. When he was laid off from his day job in January 2016, he had to make a decision.

“At that point, I had a crossroads,” he says. “I had to decide if I wanted to go back into corporate America and make a six-figure salary or take this thing I’d been working on for a year and a half and see if I could make it succeed.”

Hughes went for nearly a year without paying himself, but BANDWAGON’s website launched in August 2016. After a successful first season, Hughes realized that Clemson fans were just like all other fans, and if he had the ability to service one team’s fan base, he could support them all. The company now has four full-time employees, two part-time employees, and a couple of interns. Everything, including the technology, is built in-house. And the website supports teams from the Power Five conferences: the ACC, the PAC12, the BIG10, the SEC, and the XII.

Hughes has no formal affiliation with any of the universities represented; fans have all the control when it comes to buying and selling tickets.

“We don’t have an official partnership with Clemson or Chapel Hill or Georgia,” Hughes says. “What we do have is a service fans really enjoy, and they’ll use our platform instead of ones like Stubhub, not only because we save them money but also because they have visibility to who will get their tickets.”

Though hugely successful, Hughes views the ticket marketplace as the company’s first product.

“We use our marketplace to generate revenue by learning who our users are,” Hughes says, “We’re then able to work with teams and brand as a B2B relationship. We’re focusing on that B2B platform and talking to the athletic departments about that engagement so the fan experience is better.”

Some of those ways include connecting with fans outside of the stadium, as well as taking advantage of local businesses and restaurants that depend on the economic support during a given sports season to last year round. This is especially prevalent in college towns such as Clemson, Athens, and Chapel Hill.

“The ticket is just the beginning of the experience,” he says. “When you think about having access to that game, it’s three to five hours of your Saturday that can possibly dictate how your weekend will go. Get into the atmosphere and understand that it goes beyond the three to five hours you’re sitting in that seat.”

BANDWAGON is currently in the middle of selling football tickets. When college basketball begins in October/November, they’ll switch to that. Eventually, Hughes says, he hopes to branch out into concerts, festivals, and other live events.

 “At the end of the day, what we’re looking at is that users or fans are shelling out some of their hard-earned money, and we want to make that experience the best it can be,” Hughes says. “The tradeoff for that is that we want to help teams and organizations know who’s in the stadiums so they can cater that personalized experience.”