The Next Chapter
Industry Vet Jon Brady Buys into Bowling-Based FEC Sports Connection
Jon Brady, veteran of Brady Distributing from 1992-2015 then vice president of business development with Player One Amusement Group until earlier this year, is on to the next adventure.
While he’s at least temporarily staying on as a consultant for Player One to help out the team there, as of May 1, Brady is co-owner of Sports Connection, whose flagship location is a bowling entertainment center in Charlotte, N.C.
Sports Connection actually has three locations – two of which are strictly for sports leagues and offer rental facilities for volleyball and pickleball. The third is Sports Connection Ballantyne with its 14 lanes of bowling and many other attractions, for which Brady brings his decades of expertise.
The original owner, Allan Haseley, opened the location 14 years ago this November. “They’ve had a rich history and a good community reputation,” Brady said. Haseley was a Player One customer for many years and got to know his new business partner quite well.
Haseley approached Brady during Covid and asked if he’d like to invest and assist reopening the business in a post-Covid world.
Sports Connection was closed down for many months at the start of the pandemic, but by fall and winter last year, they were back welcoming private groups. Business had been slowly ramping up since January. By May, when Brady officially took partial ownership, they were back to seven days a week.
“It’s definitely a great opportunity and a lot of fun,” he said. “I’m excited to add value and fresh new perspective to the business. And business has been good. We’re continuing to see increases every week.”
It’s easy to see why with a diverse attractions lineup that draws in crowds – especially for birthday parties. The 40,000-sq.-ft. venue has a roughly 4,500-sq.-ft. arcade and redemption area with 85 games. Naturally, Player One Amusement Group is the game provider and consultant.
The arcade is one of the Sports Connection’s top revenue streams at roughly 75% of the business (the rest is birthday and group sales as well as food and beverage).
It’s also about 80% redemption games. Brady said Big One X-treme from Elaut is consistently their top performer. Their other great earners, he said, are DC Superheroes and Mario Kart DX from Bandai Namco, Beat Saber from VRsenal, Plinko from Coastal Amusements, Water Gun Fun from Bob’s Space Racers, Tons of Tickets from ICE and Ticket Ring and Ticket Time Double from Smart Industries.
Sports Connection also has 14 lanes of bowling, a laser tag arena, bumper cars, a ropes course, six lanes of mini bowling from U.S. Bowling, an 8-seat XD Dark Ride from Triotech, a small esports gaming center, a rock-climbing wall, a Jump and Play inflatable area, and a restaurant-café with their own food.
The focus is on family at Sports Connection. Brady said adults do come in to bowl, but it’s much more typical to see families and children’s birthday parties, which is the brunt of their party and events business.
Primarily, they cater to children aged 11-15, who make up 80% of all birthday parties at the venue. They offer three different party packages – a basic, deluxe and VIP – depending on how many attractions and gameplay the guests want to have.
With a focus on family, Sports Connection also offers a unique camp program called Super Terrific Fun Camp, which allows working parents to drop their kids off at 8 a.m. and pick them up at 5 p.m. Some kids come for a day or two while others come for two weeks straight. Early drop off and late pick up options are also available.
“It’s been a huge positive in the community,” Brady said. The camp staff is made up of mostly college-aged counselors who structure the days. Kids are put into groups of their age range (usually about 10-15 in a group) and they get to bowl and enjoy the other attractions, as well as stay active with dodgeball and other games and activities.
Though things are certainly looking up at Sports Connection, the business is still recovering from Covid and changing some of their previous staffing practices. Before the pandemic, there were 200 employees. Right now, it’s about 100 full-time and part-time. A big reason is because they’ve decided to make party hosts an option for a fee instead of automatically including them.
“We’re continuing to hire and ramp up,” Brady explained. “We feel like we’ll need to be in that 125-150 range.”
All in all, he said, things have gotten better every week this year. Getting the word out and letting people know they’re back open at 100% was a big help; so was the state dropping its mask mandate.
Regardless, with a massive load of attractions that make for a great birthday party, Sports Connection will undoubtedly see even better days ahead. “It’s all about creating a great experience,” Brady said.
Learn more about those great experiences at www.sportsconnectionnc.com.