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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 18, 2009 12 years ago

Tournament business

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Not every hobby can be parlayed into a successful business. But Lauri Dagostino's love of youth sports has made her annual national volleyball tournament into the feature item of a multimillion-dollar company.
by: Alex Walsh Web Editor

Atlanta loves Lauri Dagostino.

The city's convention and visitors bureau is in the business of attracting the nation's biggest events to its facilities. And as it happens, Dagostino's event fits that bill.

The CVB estimates her Tournament Magic company will create an economic impact of more than $19 million for the city in 2010.
(Whether you trust economic impact estimates or not, compare that number to the CVB's estimate for the Chik-fil-A Bowl of $30 million.)

A Tampa resident, Dagostino's event has outgrown the I-4 corridor facilities — and when it was here, it was one of the Tampa Convention Center's largest events of the year.

The event Dagostino organizes each year is a volleyball tournament for young women that sends qualifying teams to the Junior Olympics each year. It's called the Big South Qualifier.

The Qualifier is a one of only a handful of qualifying tournaments held for girls' volleyball in the country. And it's the driving force behind Dagostino's co-owned, multimillion-dollar company, called Tournament Magic.

Tournament Magic — which has revenues between $3 million and $4 million — only truly became its own business entity just two years ago. But after having organized large-scale tournaments for well over a decade, for Dagostino and business partner Kay Rogness, “It seemed to be a natural move,” she says.

After starting her professional life in the fashion design industry, Dagostino found herself devoting more and more time to girls' volleyball largely as a function of her family's interests.

Her husband Randy started one of Florida's first club volleyball teams in 1985. From there, the Dagostinos started to become a volleyball family.

It's precisely that notion of the “sports family” that drives Tournament Magic's success, and what creates that eight-digit economic impact for the city of Atlanta.

Dagostino puts it this way: on average, every athlete that attends the Big South Qualifier brings four other people with them for the weekend of the tournament. Furthermore, since club sports aren't cheap, those that do attend the Qualifier tend to have money to spend.
Thousands of families in Atlanta for a weekend, looking to stay busy while their daughters play volleyball: talk about a captive audience.
Effectively engaging that audience could further propel Tournament Magic's business. But doing so efficiently will be a challenge.

The tournament already features a variety of events geared to entertain the athletes' families during the weekend. Sports-related seminars, professional volleyball exhibitions, a bustling vendor marketplace — organizers have 40,000 square feet of space to utilize.

“We put on a show,” Dagostino says.

The question going forward will be how best to expand on that show. “We have more ideas than we can implement,” says Dagostino.

But implementation can be challenging: the busier things are, the more likely new tasks will need to be outsourced. Indeed, knowing when to outsource will continue to be key for Tournament Magic.

With a nod to the network of other youth sports professionals out there, Dagostino handles some of her outsourcing needs with a creative and cost-effective bent. She invites other youth sports organizations, like local youth football leagues, to volunteer at her event, in exchange for donations for their own activities.

But not everything can be done by volunteers. And Dagostino can only take on so many tasks. So much of what she does, she says, comes back to “wearing every hat as long as you can wear it.”

Dagostino will need to continue the hat wearing, because Tournament Magic appears primed for more growth. Even with recent economic events, Dagostino says she's had eight consecutive years of double-digit growth in participation.

She's already making plans for future tournaments several years in advance. “We're booking space into 2015,” she says.

Going forward, her personal relationship with the work she does will help grow the business. As part of an athletically-inclined family herself, Dagostino says, “We are who comes to our event.”

She'll hope to continue connecting with other sports families as her business continues to grow.

— Alex Walsh

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