Popping the Sports Bubble
Mahdad Taheri takes a sky’s-the-limit approach when it comes to new ideas and ventures. His agency TVI Designs, initially founded to service the hospitality industry in New York, has had a number of successful spinoff attempts as part of its Blue Sky labs innovation program. One of its latest spinoffs — and what Mahdad today spends 80% of his time nurturing — is BubbleBall, a new sport making waves in the recreation and leisure market.
Speaking of his first venture, Mahdad says it was always meant as an incubator for creativity. “We were testing different ideas, asking ourselves what kind of business would be good to tackle,” says Mahdad. BubbleBall brings a whole new meaning to the word tackle. Players of the sport outfit themselves in giant, 20 lb. plastic bubbles leaving their legs and arms exposed. With the protection (and added bounce factor) of the bubble, players are free to jump, roll, and bump with their teammates in an entirely new way.
While the official rules of BubbleBall are still being put down on paper, Mahdad points to early success. The year old company has inked 35 partnerships around the country with entrepreneurs who act essentially as franchisees and other distributors such as indoor soccer facilities. In New York City, one can try on the bubbles at Chelsea Piers, a 80,000 square foot indoor and outdoor facility that also features more traditional sports such as tennis, basketball, and golf.
The roots of BubbleBall can be traced back to Europe, where Mahdad and his team discovered how fun wearing the orbs while engaged in physical activity could be. “It’s a lot of fun,” says Mahdad. But even though the company is taking cues from big consumer brands — “we want to be the Coca-Cola of sports,” says Mahdad — BubbleBall also represents a new form of strenuous physical activity for the health and fitness conscious. “It’s a real workout to run around with 20 lbs. of plastic on you,” says Mahdad.
Mahdad has done deep research on what it will take to raise BubbleBall to the level of other widely recognized recreational past times and competitive sports. While in the masters program at NYU, he penned a thesis titled “The Critical Success Factors for Developing the Next American Major League Sport”.
A Bouncy Brand
BubbleBall’s go-to-market strategy is more than just familiarizing its customer base with how to use and enjoy the product. The real challenge will be legitimizing it as a widely-recognized sport.
“It takes some time for people to become devout fans,” says Mahdad. “Our main focus right now is getting people to play for the first time.” Mahdad and his team keep close track of early adopters as they begin to set their sights on forming leagues throughout the country dedicated to the sport. “We’re still in phase one,” says Mahdad.
Mahdad has focused his energy on branding the sport to align with how he wants first-time and returning players to feel. “We know we want to stand for happiness and joy,” says Mahdad. His team has developed the brand carefully to reinforce those emotions. “We really thought about color,” says Mahdad. “We’re all about orange. It’s a safe and friendly color. It sticks out.” Mahdad hopes that the orange bubbles will be instantly recognizable to onlookers in the future.
Forging a New Form of Fun
Mahdad is eager to bring in funding in 2016 so he can expand his team and solve for the limitations of strapped cash flow. With the product ringing in at a couple hundred dollars, one challenge is keeping them on the shelf. “It’s in high demand,” says Mahdad. “We need to be able to buy more.”
Another key focus for Mahdad in 2016 is forming an advisory board. “I don’t think I can find too many people who have gone out and developed a sport. They’re probably dead,” he jokes. Still, finding experienced advisors who can help him expand his network, identify partnerships, and secure a national sponsor to support growth of the sport will be key to BubbleBall’s success going forward.