Game Changer

Eric Leaman built a sports league while learning to play the game of business

Eric Leaman is not the kind of person to get stuck in a rut. So after hitting the three year mark as a referee for a Seattle adult sports league, making just $14 a game, he decided he needed to get out of that rut and start something for himself.

“I like building, trying new things and learning,” says Eric. “It was time to change things.” So in 2012, Eric and his brother, David, decided to try something new. They started Gameday Sports Leagues, a collection of after-work games for adults that include bowling, flag football, volleyball and trivia.

If you work or live in Boise, you may have seen players at local parks sporting the colorful “GD”-branded shirts. Every player gets one. Gameday promotes itself as a fun way to network and play casual games with locals. Teams are made up of close friends, families and co-workers looking to expend some energy after a long day of sitting. The games are competitive, but Gameday promotes having fun, meeting new people and enjoying a beer after the game.

Eric Leaman preps the field for a game
Gameday founder Eric Leaman readies the field for a kickball match while players “prepare” by sipping on cold beer.

The business requires intense coordination — from driving around town prepping the fields for the night’s game to working with business owners to set up new events like Wednesday night trivia at Payette Brewery.

Like any business, every day is a learning experience — finding out what works and what doesn’t.

“Great business owners make mistakes, learn from them, and move on from them. If you can’t learn from your mistakes, you’re not going to find success,” Eric says.

Eric believes in being proactive about the successes and failures of a business. “If your launch day is in six months, put yourself there, realize the things that could go wrong, realize the things that could go right.”

Eric places a priority on proactive planning to avoid potential stumbling blocks. “We have a Gameday social event coming up involving bussing players from local bars to fields for games. What happens if the bus doesn’t show up… if it’s double booked? What if the bar is closed for a private event? What if the park is closed?” Eric thinks through these scenarios months in advance. He admits he can’t think of everything that may go wrong or right, but it’s the best mindset to be in. “I’m not interested in letting people down.”

After some strategic planning for Gameday, Eric and David realized they couldn’t grow the business as quickly as they originally thought. Gameday is built on dozens of relationships with locals bars, businesses and Boise Parks and Recreation. Expanding to a new city will take establishing new relationships, understanding the current competition and finding someone who can manage it all. “It’s not something we can just start tomorrow, it will take time to plan and build this in another city,” Eric says.

With David getting married and seeking more stability, he agreed to leave Gameday in the hands of Eric to manage and grow.

Gameday Sports Leagues founder Eric Leaman prepping the field for a kickball match

As of 2015, Gameday is three years old. Hundreds of games have been played and thousands of players have joined. Now Eric finds himself at another decision point: growth. The current iteration of Gameday has been successful, Eric says, but to reach the full vision of the business, he needs a major investment, which he plans on funding in part by himself. To do that, he’s taking a job.

Since league events happen after typical working hours, Eric is transitioning Gameday into a side project he can run after work. “I just need to prove to potential investors that I’m serious about Gameday, and I can do that by investing my own money.”

This hurdle is just another challenge to overcome in his vision for the business. This realization is a hard pill to swallow, but he wants to be transparent.

“So many business owners are in a constant struggle. When you admit you are struggling, people are more willing to help out.”

He likens it to a local business announcing it is closing to the surprise of the community. “If they had asked for help a year or two ago, the community might have rallied around it to keep it alive,” says Eric, but for many owners, admitting failure is hard. “Business owners often have too much pride to ask for help. That pride can mean the downfall of their business.”

For his part, Eric says he understands the successes and failures of Gameday and surrounds himself with mentors and a community that wants to see Gameday be successful.

His vision for Gameday’s future? More players and games, owning fields for games and even a Gameday-branded bar for after-game events.

“It’s all still in the plan,” he says. “I just need the investment and experience to take it to the next level.”

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