Dragon Seats Hybrid Side Benches Now Run Hot and Cold, Opening New Markets and Continued DeWalt College Sponsorship

Story as it appears in SBJ, February 7, 2022 issue by reporter Bret McCormick. Online version.

Since the mid-1980s, Frank Floyd Jr. has heated NFL and college football sidelines, first through non-naked flame heaters and later through its heated Dragon Seats.

But Dragon Seats’ market potential has always been limited to the coldest climates in America. Stadiums in the Sun Belt or with roofs did not need heated benches. The NFL had rules against blocking the view of front row fans – ruling out huge AC units – and stadium sidelines tended to have limited power capabilities anyway.

A breakthrough came in 2019 that changed the future of Dragon Seats. The Cleveland-based company has discovered a compact air conditioning unit that runs on 110-volt power, small enough to meet NFL requirements not to block views of the action but capable of lowering the ambient temperature by a 30 degree bench.

The market potential of Dragon Seats had just exploded.

Not only could Dragon Seats supply benches for ski resorts, baseball dugouts, tennis courts, and college football, but now the entire NFL. His benches are on 18 NFL sidelines, but the goal, now achievable with the hybrid bench, is all 30 stadiums.

“Our goal is consistency. We want these teams to be able to enjoy comfort on the sidelines, at home or away,” said Floyd Jr., president and CEO of Dragon Seats. “We now have a product that we can offer and present at any facility in the United States.”

The creation of the Hybrid Bench, which is made of fiberglass and includes heated and cooled headset buttons, sparked a period of accelerated growth, nearly 75% year-over-year in 2020 and more than doubling in 2021, a pattern the company is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. The company recruited key personnel, changed its business model from sale to rental and developed a previously untapped line of sponsorship business with Learfield and DeWalt that put the toolmaker’s logo on benches. 25 Power Five college football teams in 2021. This year’s trial went well enough that DeWalt and Learfield last week renewed the deal for two more football seasons.

“That’s what can really set this thing on fire for them is bringing it to not only colleges but also pro teams with this sponsorship app, and having them the ability to do it both ways. “whether it’s sponsored or branded benches,” said Rick Barakat. , Executive Vice President and General Manager of Learfield, Media and Partnerships Group. “It’s very creative and important, not just the item itself, but the way it’s presented. It really gives them a whole new opportunity to scale this thing.

Find the biggest opportunity

Floyd Jr.’s main business for three decades was heating construction sites. In a Cleveland Browns training in 1986, he suggested to one of the team’s equipment managers that he could keep the team’s players warm, and do so more safely, than flame torpedo heaters. naked that the Browns used. This led to Floyd’s first job heating up the sideline for an NFL team.

Secondary questions

The schools involved in the initial DeWalt sponsorship in 2021:
VAC-4
Boston College, FSU, Louisville, NC State
Big Ten – 8
Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwest, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Big 12 – 8
Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, West Virginia
West Mountain – 1
Boise State
Pac-12–4
California, Colorado, Utah, Washington

Less than a decade later, Floyd Jr. created the hot bench and the Browns were receptive again, making their debut on the bench in the 1995 season. Floyd slowly built the side business over the two decades later, then sold its construction heater business in 2017 to focus on Dragon Seats.

Two of Floyd Jr.’s children became interested during 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 Chief Operating Officer of Dragon Seats, joined the company in mid-2019 after graduating from Columbia University’s business school and left an unsatisfying job on Wall Street. Franklin watched NFL and college football games with a stopwatch, timing how long the sidelines appeared on television; a later study by IEG found that the bench spent about 11 total minutes on television over the course of a season.

The full-time involvement of children has spurred critical changes in Dragon Seats’ business model. The company has moved from selling benches to renting, with one-, three-, and five-year leases, as well as one-time rentals available (Dragon Seats declined to share bench prices). Leasing has allowed for more predictable cash flow and business growth, as well as more contact time with equipment managers and operations staff for college and professional teams. Stronger relationships generated valuable feedback on pain points and other issues that Dragon Seats could solve for its customers, such as the need for an air-conditioned bench or different bench sizes. As a result, the company increased its investment in manufacturing, engineering, and design talent, resulting in the hybrid bench.

“We had been in space for 30 years with an exemplary product. He got accepted by the NFL, which is a huge, huge challenge,” Floyd Jr said. “Then these guys came on board,” he said, pointing to his son and Dragon Seats strategic adviser. Clarke Jones, sitting either side of him at a conference table, “and saying, ‘Hey, there’s a greater opportunity here than just existing in space with a great product. Moving on to warmer climates, Frank. Understand that.'”

A property point

Dragon Seats has manufactured heated benches for varsity teams for over 15 years, but never sought sponsorship. That changed when former IMG executive Jones started working with the team in January 2019. He had spent 25 years at IMG, working primarily in golf, and he brought the experience in sports marketing which the company lacked.

The seeds of the DeWalt sponsorship deal were planted by Jones and Floyd III during lunch with Barakat at the 2019 Learfield IMG College Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York City. Once an initial agreement was reached with Learfield, the two companies worked for months to iron out logistics, determine the benches’ sponsorship value, and establish a pricing schedule before bringing the benches to market.

They found DeWalt with the help of ANC, owned by Learfield and the company’s longtime supplier of tools. Learfield decided to launch the activation with the Power Five schools because of their brand power, audience and television exposure. The deal was originally slated for 2020 but was put on hold for a year as COVID-19 played into the college football season. Ahead of the 2021 season, 100 pieces of Dragon Seats equipment were built in 90 days and then installed in school stadiums specifically with DeWalt tools.

“[DeWalt] wanted a point of ownership, something that was sort of personalized and unique, and they also liked the aspect of providing safety and performance benefits to schools and student-athletes,” Barakat said.

IEG Global Managing Director Peter Laatz said the television value of secondary sponsorships, especially in college football, is “super dependent on the networks that broadcast the games, the teams that play and, frankly, the action in the match.These things are out of everyone’s control.

It made the media earned that DeWalt got from press conferences, highlights and social media during the 2021 season even more valuable. Baylor hosted a weekly series of football video interviews in front of the bench, while the Texas Twitter account went mildly viral by capitalizing on a trend with a tweet thread centered on the Longhorns’ DeWalt bench that received more than 250 000 impressions and a 6.8% engagement rate (social media engagement above 2% is strong). In total, Learfield estimated that DeWalt reached nine million fans and 200 million viewers.

Uniformity

Floyd Jr. wouldn’t share specific numbers showing growth, but the evidence for Dragon Seats’ rise is clear. The company, which now has 15 full-time and part-time employees, has heated benches at LL Bean’s Maine headquarters and at three ski resorts, including one in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He works with over 50 colleges and baseball teams at all levels, as well as the NFL.

In 2020, Dragon Seats purchased custom trailers and trucks and brought shipping of its benches in-house, significantly reducing shipping risk and allowing the company to spend more quality time with service managers. team gear and operations managers to find out what other challenges they were. face to face.

And there’s still plenty of room to grow with the NFL. Official side sponsorships cost in the “healthy eight figures,” Laatz said, so that’s out of the question. Instead, Dragon Seats’ goal is more akin to becoming an unofficially preferred bench supplier for the NFL, helping it achieve near-total uniformity on its sidelines.

It can achieve this by continuing its work with 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, including one-time rentals, so with the hybrid bench this is now an achievable goal.

“The NFL has a stated goal of consistency,” Jones said. “If you watch a game in Miami and a game in Green Bay, and a game in New Orleans, you’re going to see three different images of the sidelines. I think the NFL would like that image to be the same, in that Our hope is that one day the NFL will think we can add enough value to be able to work with them league-wide.

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