Story as it appears in the February 7, 2022 issue of SBJ by reporter Bret McCormick. on-line version.
Frank Floyd Jr. has been heating things up since the mid-1980s NFL and college football sidelines, first through non-flame heaters and later through his heated Dragon Seats benches.
But the market potential of Dragon Seats has always been limited to America’s coldest climates. Sunbelt or canopied stadiums did not need heated benches. The NFL had rules against blocking the view of fans in the front row — which ruled out huge AC units — and stadium sidelines had limited capabilities anyway.
2019 saw a breakthrough that changed the future of Dragon Seats. The Cleveland-based company discovered a compact air conditioner that runs on 110 volts and is small enough to meet the NFL’s requirements of not blocking a view of the action but reducing a bench’s ambient temperature by 30 degrees.
The market potential of Dragon Seats had just exploded.
Dragon Seats could supply benches not just for ski resorts, baseball fields, tennis courts and college football, but now for the entire NFL. His benches are on 18 NFL touchlines, but the goal now achievable with the hybrid bench is all 30 stadiums.
“Our goal is consistency. We want these teams to enjoy sideline comfort both at home and away,” said Floyd Jr., Chairman and CEO of Dragon Seats. “We now have a product that we can propose and present to any facility in the United States.”
The development of the hybrid bench, which is made of fiberglass and includes heated and cooled helmet buttons, sparked a period of accelerated growth that was nearly 75% year over year in 2020 and more than doubled in 2021, a pattern the company expects will be continued in the foreseeable future. The company made important staffing additions, changed its business model from sale to lease, and developed a previously untapped sponsorship deal with Learfield and DeWalt, bringing the toolmaker’s logo to the benches of 25 Power Five college football teams in 2021. In that one-year process, the process went so well that just last week, DeWalt and Learfield renewed the contract for two more football seasons.
“That’s what can really set this thing on fire for them, taking it not just to colleges but to professional teams with this sponsorship application, and they have the flexibility to do it either way,” sponsored or branded benches, said Rick Barakat, Learfield executive vice president and managing director, Media and Partnerships Group. “It’s very creative and important, not just the element itself, but how it’s presented. It really gives them a whole new way to scale this thing.”
Find the bigger opportunity
Floyd Jr.’s primary business was heating construction sites for three decades. In a Cleveland Brown In 1986, he suggested to one of the team’s equipment managers that the team’s players should be kept warmer and safer than the open-flame torpedo heaters the Browns were using. That led to Floyd’s first side job heating up the sidelines of an NFL team.
The schools involved in the first DeWalt sponsorship in 2021:
ACC – 4th
Boston College, FSU, Louisville, NC
Big Ten – 8th
Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwest, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Big 12 – 8
Baylor, Iowa, Kansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, West Virginia
Mountain West – 1
State of Boise
Pac-12 – 4
Cal, Colorado, Utah, Washington
Less than a decade later, Floyd Jr. created the heated bench and the Browns were receptive, debuting the bench during the 1995 season. Floyd slowly built the side business for the next two decades, then sold his construction heating business in 2017 to focus on Dragon Seats to concentrate.
Two of Floyd Jr.’s children became interested around this time, including his daughter Molly, who was hired in 2018 and plays a key role in overseeing the company’s increasingly complicated logistics. His son, Franklin Floyd III, who now serves as Dragon Seats’ COO, joined the company in mid-2019 after graduating from Columbia University’s business school and leaving an unsatisfactory job on Wall Street. Franklin watched NFL and college football games with a stopwatch and timed how long sidelines appeared on television; A later IEG study found that the bank spent a total of about 11 minutes on television over the course of a season.
The children’s full-time commitment led to significant changes in Dragon Seats’ business model. The company switched from selling bench seats to leasing them with one-, three-, and five-year leases, as well as one-time rentals (Dragon Seats declined to share bench prices). Leasing resulted in more predictable cash flow and business growth, as well as more face-to-face encounters with equipment managers and operations staff on collegiate and pro teams. Stronger relationships generated valuable feedback on pain points and other issues that Dragon Seats could solve for its customers, such as: B. the need for an air-conditioned bench or different sizes of benches. Accordingly, the company increased investment in manufacturing, engineering and design talents, resulting in the hybrid bank.
“We have been in the industry for 30 years with an exemplary product. It was accepted by the NFL, which is a huge challenge,” Floyd Jr said. “Then these guys came on board,” he said, pointing to his son and Dragon Seats strategic adviser Clarke Jones, who is on either side of B. was sitting at a conference table, “and saying: ‘Hey, there’s a better chance here than just existing in the room with an excellent product. Let’s move to the warmer climates, Frank. Find out.’”
Dragon Seats has manufactured heated benches for collegiate teams for more than 15 years but has never pursued sponsorship. That all changed when former IMG executive Jones began working with the crew in January 2019. Having spent 25 years at IMG, primarily working in golf, he brought the sports marketing experience the company lacked.
The seeds of the DeWalt sponsorship deal were planted by Jones and Floyd III during a luncheon with Barakat at the 2019 Learfield IMG College Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York. After an initial agreement was reached with Learfield, the two companies worked for months to iron out the logistics, determine the benches’ sponsorship value and finalize a price list before launching the benches.
They found DeWalt with help from ANC, which is owned by Learfield and a longtime supplier to the tooling company. Learfield decided to start the activation with the Power Five schools because of their brand strength, audience and TV exposure. The deal was originally scheduled for 2020 but was put on hold for a year when COVID-19 played with the college football season. Ahead of the 2021 season, 100 pieces of kit were built by Dragon Seats in 90 days and then specially installed in the schools’ stadiums using DeWalt tools.
“[DeWalt] wanted a point of ownership, something that was individual and unique, and they also loved the aspect of providing safety and performance benefits to schools and student-athletes,” said Barakat.
Peter Laatz, global managing director of IEG, said that the TV value of outside work, particularly in college football, “is super dependent on the networks that are showing the games, the teams that are playing and, frankly, the in-game action. These things are all out of everyone’s control.”
That added even more value to the earned media DeWalt received during the 2021 season through press conferences, highlights and social media. Baylor hosted a weekly pre-bench football video interview series, while Texas’ Twitter account went mildly viral by capitalizing on a trend with a tweet thread centered on the Longhorns’ DeWalt bench, racking up over 250,000 impressions and received an engagement rate of 6.8% (social media engagement above 2% is strong). Overall, Learfield estimated DeWalt reached nine million fans and 200 million viewers.
Floyd Jr. wouldn’t provide specific numbers that illustrate the growth, but the evidence of Dragon Seats’ rise is clear. The company, which now has 15 full and part-time employees, has heated benches at LL Bean’s Maine headquarters and at three ski resorts, including one in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It works with more than 50 colleges and baseball teams at all levels, as well as the NFL.
In 2020, Dragon Seats purchased custom trailers and trucks and shipped its benches in-house, significantly reducing shipping risk and allowing the company to spend more valuable time with team equipment managers and operations staff to learn what other challenges they faced on the sidelines.
And there’s still plenty of room to grow with the NFL. Official part-time job sponsorships cost in the “healthy eight-figure range,” said Laatz, so that’s out of the question. Instead, Dragon Seats’ goal is more to become an unofficially preferred bench provider for the NFL and help it achieve near-complete uniformity on its sidelines.
This can be achieved by continuing work with the individual clubs, some of which still use traditional aluminum benches and open flame torpedo heaters. Dragon Seats benches have been used in all 30 stadiums, counting one-off rentals, so with the hybrid bench it’s an achievable goal now.
“The NFL has a stated goal of consistency,” Jones said. “If you look at a game in Miami and a game in Green Bay and a game in New Orleans, you will see three different sideline images. I think the NFL would like this picture to look the same as it relates to their touchline. We hope one day the NFL thinks we can add enough value to work with them league-wide.”