Harold Hughes says that if you were to ask his friends to describe him, they would call him “a big cheerleader.” Personally, he describes himself as “a big fan of the progress we can make as a community.” It is fitting, then, that he has created a business that allows the community he calls home to grow its bond.
This story begins at Clemson University, where Hughes received a degree in economics, as well as an MBA.
“I graduated from Clemson and became a season ticket holder,” Hughes says. “And one of the biggest challenges we had was, ‘Where are our tickets on gameday… who are we sitting next to?’
This question became even more prevalent when Harold and a few of his Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers decided to go on a cross-country road trip to visit the best college football stadiums in the country.
Being away from their home stadium, they knew they would need to sell their Clemson tickets while on the road trip. They also knew they wanted to sell those tickets specifically to Clemson fans, because they did not want to disrupt the camaraderie of their section by allowing fans of the opposing team to come in. And, they wanted to sell their tickets in a way that would ensure they made a little extra money for their road trip.
“We looked at two main problems,” says Hughes. “The first was being able to sell your ticket to a fan of your team, and the other was being able to sell a ticket and actually pocket money. One of the challenges with the current market’s solutions was they were taking so much in fees, and giving you no transparency and no ability to control that home field advantage.”
“If you think about it, as a sports fan, you’re not responsible for kicking field goals or catching Hail Marys,” says Hughes. “Your one job is to protect home field advantage and cheer really, really loudly.”
The result of this realization was Bandwagon, an online secondary ticket market that allows ticket-holders to sell their seats to fans of their home team.
Bandwagon uses data and analytics to target fans who aren’t season ticket holders or members of Booster Clubs to get them into the stands and secure that “home field advantage.”
“When we talk to these schools, we say ‘They may not be able to afford your Booster Club, and that’s okay because they are still intimately connected with their University,’” says Hughes. “’So how do we allow them to feel more connection from the University down?’ A lot of the time, if you’re not in that Booster Club, it’s fan-up to the team, you don’t feel the love back down.”
“We’re building this community inside the stadium, where you’re having a blast with the people you’re sitting around, says Hughes. “That is really important – the good feelings, the warm and fuzzies you get from being in the stadium and high-fiving people.”
“This is a community solution for a community challenge,” says Hughes. “When I go to a sporting event, it’s unlike if I go to a concert. If we all go to the Beyonce concert, everyone’s pulling for Beyonce, no one’s hoping Beyonce misses a key. When you’re at a football game or a sporting event, half of that dynamic could be a lot of people pulling against that home team.”
Hughes says that part of his goal in creating a business to solve these problems was to create jobs in his own community, and to give back to those who shaped his path. In trying to grow his team, Harold reached out to what he calls his “circle” – friends, former co-workers, and others close to him. He also wants to find ways to bring the startup and tech knowledge found in Silicon Valley, New York and Austin, Texas to South Carolina and the Southeast. So he committed to learning through books and podcasts on the subject, and gives his team homework assignments of sorts when he finds materials that he finds particularly useful.
Bandwagon’s data analytics allows Hughes to help fellow local businesses as well.
“This isn’t just a couple of folks who want to say ‘Hey buy your tickets on our website, it’s cheaper and you can sit with fans of your own team,’” Hughes says. “We’re able to dissect and say ‘We know what the typical season ticket holder looks like, we know how much money they make, we know how many kids they have at home, we know how far they live from the stadium.’ And from there, we can take that data to a partner, we can walk to Craft and Draft and say, ‘We know that seven Saturdays out of the Fall, this type of person comes to our website and buys tickets. That looks like it’s your target demographic. Do you want to put together a Bandwagon beer, put it on tap and we’ll share some of the revenue, and we’ll push people to Craft and Draft?’
Hughes believes that, because Bandwagon has a mission of community development, everyone in the local community wants to see the company succeed.
“The Bandwagon name was chosen by design,” says Hughes. “We wanted to create this idea of, you’re getting on the bandwagon and you’re supporting this group. We want people to say ‘Oh yea, that’s a local Greenville company, and they’re using them at Arizona State, they’re using them in Texas, they’re using them in New York!’ We want that to be a thing of pride in South Carolina.”
Bandwagon is already starting to foster that “loyalty to the community” feel that Harold has envisioned.
“One of our advisors is a big Clemson donor,” says Hughes. “He has tickets to games and says ‘I would rather sell it for face value if I know it’s going to go to a young Clemson grad who can’t really afford to have season tickets.’”
If (or, perhaps, when) Hughes becomes successful, he will stand firm in his commitment to give back to the community.
“I would spend my money, my time and all of my resources helping create resources and opportunities for people who are on the margin to be able to realize some of those opportunities and get that success,” says Hughes. “I remember growing up right here in Columbia, we had a lot of resources that were available to us, but some we couldn’t afford. And there were others that just weren’t available and weren’t in our grasp because of where we lived, or whatever it was.”
“If you think about the impact you leave on the people around you and in your local community, we want to do big things where we are and where we’re from,” says Hughes.
“If I find a product that I absolutely love, I’m going to make sure I tell everyone about it. And it’s the same thing with Greenville,” says Hughes. “I absolutely love Greenville and want to tell everyone about it… it’s important to figure out that we can be great wherever we are. There’s a saying ‘Bloom where you’re planted.’ So if this is where you are, don’t wait to go to Silicon Valley to make a difference, don’t wait to get to New York City to make a difference, don’t wait until you graduate college to make a difference. Find that opportunity that you have, and if you can’t find it, create it.”
“If this is your community, and you have a problem with it, find a way to fix it,” he says. “If you love it, find a way to make it better. And if you have made it better, continue finding ways to share that and bring more people into the ecosystem.”
Hughes’ Bandwagon, appropriately, is already getting attention in communities spanning far past Clemson’s Greenville-area borders.
“Eastern Washington University reached out to me, and said ‘You know what we’re tired of, is those North Dakota folks sitting in our seats,’” says Hughes. “And it was one of those things where you’re just like ‘Woah, this is crazy, this stadium only holds like 15,000 people.’ But they’re also really focused on having a community effect, and having a really die-hard fan base.”
This is a very good sign for Hughes. He hopes that Bandwagon can help him reach individuals from communities much different than his.
“Sports has a unique, unifying component that allows people from all backgrounds to come together,” he says.
Watch Hughes’ full Startup Spotlight interview with Midlands Anchor CEO Tia Williams here: