Co-Founder / CEO
Youth Athletes United
New York, New York
Interview with Matt Ward
TGA Premier Sports was launched in 2003 in 12 Los Angeles elementary schools creating the first after-school golf enrichment curriculum of its kind. In 2006, the demand grew for more programming and the enrichment program was scaled and re-launched as the first ever youth sports franchise company that specialized in golf.
TGA focuses on athletes ages 6-14, providing introductory and recreational golf programs at schools, parks and rec, and then transitions them to golf courses and other national programs. TGA has grown to be one of the leading junior golf programs in the industry reaching over 825,000 kids to date nationwide across 77 markets, 23 states (plus Washington D.C.), and Canada.
In 2021, Youth Athletes United, with 284 franchise units, recognized how TGA Premier Sports was the perfect complement to Amazing Athletes and Soccer stars filling a void in programming for older players. With the acquisition of TGA, Youth Athletes United took a major step toward its mission of becoming the largest and most encompassing youth sports organization in the country, with the goal of positively impacting more than 1 million kids each year.
Adam Geisler has spent his entire career around sports. The first 10 years was with the 118-year-old global fitness and lifestyle brand, Everlast, where he became president. Following Everlast, Geisler lead the startup sports performance company called MISSION.
While at MISSION, he led Strategy, Merchandising, and Sales growing it to $50M. He then went on to Authentic Brands Group where he was the Global Brand Manager of their sports portfolio – Prince, Spyder, and Airwalk to name a few. Geisler, along with private equity firm Reynolds Channel, his partners and the pre-existing management team, co-founded Youth Athletes
His goal of creating the largest youth sports franchise platform in the country is sweeping the nation with 284 franchise units across Soccer Stars, Amazing Athletes, JumpBunch and now TGA Premier Sports.
THE GEISLER STORY
Growing up, playing sports was always a huge passion of mine. My favorite sport was basketball and when I was 13, my dream was to play it professionally. And, no one could convince me otherwise. I played and practiced every day and worked on my skills, but my ability never quite caught up to my desire and passion. So, when I was cut from the basketball team in the 11th grade, while it crushed me and I thought my sports career was over, I realized a life in sports was still achievable. My passion for sports, combined with my drive and dedication led me to a career in sports, after all.
I recognized that, like me, millions of kids nationwide might not make a sports team, but that doesn’t mean they can’t play sports or have sports impact their lives in a number of beneficial ways. Today, my desire to provide a better life for kids through sports is what drives me and I give all the credit to the sports and coaches in my life for helping me get here.
You wake up in the morning — what’ the driving passion that gets you going?
I no longer have a job I have a passion and a goal. Every day we can have a profound impact on kids’ lives through sports like golf and grow the game for a living. I’m the most passionate I’ve been in my career because of how we are impacting kids through our sports programs.
The core mission of Youth Athletes United is what?
We believe every kid is an athlete. If we can give them the confidence through fun and engaging content, while teaching them the fundamentals through sport, we have an athlete for life.
What specific benchmarks do you use in order to define success for the initiatives you carry out?
We want to impact a million kids a year through our programs. In three short years, we’re a quarter of the way there. Success will be measured by accomplishing this goal with both registered programs as well as providing free and subsidized programming to underserved communities.
What impact has the pandemic played in term of the activities and related programs you are bringing forward?
Parents and children are embracing outdoor activities and sports now more than ever. Participation rates are at all-time highs. Kids want to be active and social in fun and engaging environments. Parents have also been very excited and open to having their kids participate in the lifelong individual sports of golf and tennis where social distancing is built in, and they can also participate with them. This is a big reason why these two sports have seen double digit increases.
The compression of time in everyone’s daily life weighs heavily in golf — what specific steps can be brought to bear in dealing with this topic?
There are two steps that can be made: First, I think we have to continue getting away from putting an emphasis on 18-holes, which the industry is already starting to do by promoting 6-holes or even less. We are currently doing this in a pilot program with our new TGA Golf Academy. This program focuses on key fundamentals of the game including short game, then transitions them to our partner golf course onsite where kids then play 3-holes.
This leaves them wanting more and gets their families interested and joining them sometimes as well. When the family gets involved, they spend even more time on the golf course. Also, the growing popularity of short courses and playing forward tees is also helping to improve the time it can take to play. It was cool to see in the recent “Match” on TV that they played just 12-holes.
Golf is attracting more girls to the sport in recent years, but the bigger anchor is how does golf successfully engage minorities and those from the lowest levels on the socio-economic ladder? What’s your take on this?
The largest barriers for lower income areas, minorities, or under resourced schools has been sustainable costs and getting kids to golf courses. It is important to find ways or create programs that bring golf directly to those areas. TGA’s model does that with our in-school programs promoting a pathway to the golf course, and we also do this with executing programs at under-resourced schools.
The TGA Sports Foundation breaks down barriers to the entry point, while partnering with Youth On Course aids that transition to golf course making the pathway more sustainable and affordable for those lower on the socio-economic ladder.
What have you seen in your TGA programs with regards to girl’s participation?
We have seen a significant increase in girl’s participation over the years. Today, over 40 percent of our registrations are female, and it’s been very exciting to not only see that, but how they are transitioning and staying in the sport. In Detroit, our franchise saw over 40 girls the past two years who started golf with TGA, qualify for the Michigan state high school golf championships, as well as returning as coaches, and playing college golf.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally – what would it be and why?
The cost barrier to get into the game. From equipment prices to green fees, if golf ever wants to compete against mainstream sports like football, basketball, baseball, soccer, etc., it needs to create pricing that attracts not only new players who might be interested but can’t afford it, but also for kids in under resourced communities. $100 for a pair of basketball shoes and a basketball, or $20 for a soccer ball is a long-ways from a $300-$500 set of golf clubs and $50 – $100 green fees.
All of the major golf organizations — USGA, PGA of America, R&A, PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, et al — talk about the importance of “growing the game.” What letter grade do they receive for their efforts thus far and what counsel would you give them in regards to future actions in this area?
I would give them an A-. I don’t think we could say that 10-15 years ago, but they have done an excellent job with programs like USGA Girls Golf, PGA Junior League, DCP, as well as First Tee.
One of the areas they could focus more on in the future is being more cohesive and working together to create a streamlined and seamless player pathway, which would benefit the entire industry. Many of our franchises are transitioning kids into these national programs right from our in-school introductory programs. For example, over the last two years several franchises have had hundreds of kids sign up for Drive Chip and Putt or PGA Junior League, and in several of our markets we’re partnering with Youth on Course.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
Paraphrasing but find your passion and you will no longer have a job; you will have a lifestyle — from my parents.
The biggest challenges — short and long term – facing Youth Athletes United is what? And how do you see dealing with these matters successfully?
We face two big challenges, inequity and digital growth. We have to continue to support programs like Youth on Course and ensure that all kids including in underserved communities get access to golf. TGA Golf has positioned itself to be at the forefront of growing the game from the bottom up.
Long term, as kids continue to get more engaged on-line, we have to find ways to make the game more exciting and meet them where they are. Technology through Indoor simulators and the gamification of golf should be embraced as a way to bring more kids into the sport. TGA is working with these partners across the country to reach and impact more kids.
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