RallyMe – crowdfunding the joy of sport

rallymeAs we were getting acquainted prior to the interview, RallyMe founder Bill Kerig and I exchanged stories about the costs friend incurred putting their children through sports like ice hockey for a large part of their youth.

When I mentioned a friend of mine estimated he spent $100,000 over 10 years so his daughter could play competitive ice hockey, only to quit on the verge of receiving a scholarship, Kerig gave a knowing chuckle and said “Is that all?”

Youth competitive sports is serious business. If you have designs on your child being the next Roger Federer, Sidney Crosby, or even a backup catcher for the Mets, be prepared to to commit thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours per year to ensure your child gets the optimum competitive experience. Beyond the equipment and registration you have to consider airfare, hotels, meals and other costs.

“If your child is a top athlete, to get them playing against the best competition they have to make traveling teams that go across the country and beyond playing against similar teams from other regions. They have to be seen to get the opportunity to perform at the next level.” Kerig advises, adding that it is not uncommon for families in his native Salt Lake City to spend $25,000 per year to send their children to more prosperous ice hockey regions of the U.S.

And you thought the national debt counter went up fast.

Lucky are those children from families with the means to somehow cover these expenses, but for every one that can, there are several who have to have that sad conversation with their child to inform them that they have to stop or at least dramatically alter a path that has been their passion for some time.

Stopping conversations like those from having to happen are what motivated Bill Kerig to start RallyMe.

“I was lucky enough to be able to pursue my dreams as far as they could take me,” Kerig admitted. “But so many, including some people very close to me, could not.”

It’s those lost opportunities that gnaw at Kerig, and what fill him with a seemingly limitless energy to promote RallyMe, but to a greater extent each individual athlete or team that starts a rally on the site.

Kerig is a talented athlete. Captain of his college hockey team, Kerig also spent a number of years on the competitive skiing circuit. The friends he made and the strength of bonds forged through sport are rare. The raw emotions associated with public success, failure and injury coupled with the knowledge only an insider could have of the hundreds of solitary hours spent in pursuit of that sport are part of what make the friendships so deep.

“We’re not just talking about a high level of sport where these friendships are formed,” Kerig offers. “They are made at every level from starting out to every level after that.”

That’s why RallyMe is available to athletes and programs at every level of competitiveness, because whether your goal is an Olympic medal or to win your first game, Kerig and his team recognize that the beauty of sport and the opportunities that it provides at its core are waiting to be experienced no matter what level one is participating at.

As athletes around the world prepare for Sochi and Rio, media will soon be chronicling previously unheard of athletes and their stories of overcoming adversity to reach the world’s largest stage.  That should provide a boon to sites like RallyMe and the athletes using RallyMe to get to Russia and Brazil.

It’s also a welcome contrast from stories of Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and Lance Armstrong, who put personal goals above everything.

“Those are the ultimate acts of selfishness,” Kerig admits. “When top level athletes, or any athlete, engages in doping, they are turning their backs on everyone who supported them at every level. They don’t care about the sport, the fans, the environment that gave them everything.  It’s ego versus inclusion.”

Contrast this with the international-caliber athletes that Kerig met at farmer’s markets and car washes, who were literally holding coin cans and asking people to support them.

“I couldn’t believe that when I saw it,” Kerig recalls. “There has to be a better way to fund these athletes so they can spend more time in pursuit of their goals while not being distracted by making ends meet.”

It was the combination of the Olympics and the overcoming of adversity that put Bill Kerig on the path to RallyMe.

“I was producing sports documentaries and was working with Lindsey Van, who was challenging the exclusion of women from Olympic ski-jumping,” Kerig recalls. “She would tell me these stories of needing three roommates and working part time jobs for 10 dollars an hour so she could afford to compete.”

“I’m listening to this and I’m thinking, here is one of the best athletes in the world, better than most men, and she’s working part time jobs and recruiting roommates just to survive? Are you kidding me?”

Kerig was used to an environment of relatively easy funding for his documentaries and felt that there was an opportunity to develop a more effective way for athletes to be funded. He was having a conversation with a former agent when the agent asked Kerig if he ever heard of Indiegogo.

The seed for RallyMe had germinated. Immediately curious, Kerig began investigating Indiegogo specifically and the crowdfunding genre as a whole and saw an opportunity. None of the sites specifically catered to the concept Kerig wanted to create, so he started his own.

“I was wondering if this idea had any potential , so I asked Lindsey Van what she thought and she said “I’d do that in a heartbeat.'”

So armed with his first “rally,” as RallyMe campaigns are called, Kerig set up a WordPress page and PayPal account and hit the web.

Success was immediate. Lindsey Vonn blew past her $13,000 goal, receiving nearly $21,000 in a very short period of time.

“We were able to harness the power of the internet and to connect with all sorts of people who believed in Lindsey,” Kerig remembers. “This really validated the concept that athletes could market themselves in this way, and that contributors would support their efforts.”

An outsider looks at sport in America and the significant place it has in the national consciousness and can  be forgiven for wondering why any American athlete would need to fund raise at all.

“Certain sports are well funded at a certain level,” Kerig offers. “University booster clubs raise millions of dollars for football and basketball, but that network is not available for every athlete.”

For every college football, basketball or baseball player afforded top facilities, full-ride scholarships and other supports, there are dozens of athletes training in obscurity, in sports that have not captured the national imagination and which only come to the fore, if they do at all, every four years during the Olympics.

In addition to the money, RallyMe provides these athletes with a platform, a venue to tell the world about their sport and their passion for it. It is an opportunity to connect with potential supporters and to harness the collective power of people’s kindness into an environment where the whole indeed exceeds the sum of its parts.

“The average pledge in many crowdfunding sites is $74. On RallyMe, it is $150. There are clearly connections forming and a shared passion to see these athletes succeed.” says Kerig. “Crowdfunding is reaching out to friends, family and followers.  You are saying, ‘hey, I am doing something worthwhile and I’d like your support.”

Beyond the financial support, RallyMe has also given the athletes a boost in a way Kerig did not initially see when he started RallyMe in 2009.

“These athletes, who never knew anyone cared, are now being supported by thousands of people who are saying they care enough about them to give them money.”

RallyMe athletes are telling Kerig that they have added motivation now, that they feel a relationship with these people who have invested in their success. RallyMe encourages its athletes to cement those ties with their supporters, by providing regular updates on their training and competitions, along with thank you gifts that are only limited by one’s creativity. Athletes send postcards and videos give t-shirts and ear buds, and for larger sums will provide personalized training sessions and up close and personal experiences like being able to watch the athlete at select competitions.

“These are skills the athlete can take beyond the competitive arena,” adds Kerig. They learn to engage in customer service, to market and promote themselves. “They can take this skills with them into business, no matter what business they get into following their competitive careers.”

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