Such weekend football trips have become an annual tradition for many college sports fans; however, hotels rooms can be hard to find in college towns during gameday weekends and the good old laws of supply and demand cause the prices of those few available rooms to skyrocket during those six or seven weekends each fall. By connecting passionate college football fans with homeowners looking to make some extra income, University Football Rentals has steadily become a company focused on ensuring college football fans can have both an enjoyable and affordable trip to see their team play.
Started a few years ago to serve Notre Dame fans descending onto tiny South Bend, Indiana, University Football Rentals has worked with hundreds of willing homeowners living near stadiums to list their properties and rent them out to fans coming in for the weekend. UFR makes the listing process extremely easy for homeowners to post a few pictures of their property, set their rental price, and immediately start making money. Meanwhile, families and friends looking for a place to stay can search the listings by price, size, or proximity to the stadium. Staying at a house with amenities like big screen TVs, pool tables, and hot tubs makes for a much more enjoyable gameday experience than splitting the group up between two or three hotel rooms.
Recognizing that this same shortage of housing is plaguing dozens of college towns across the country, University Football Rentals has steadily expanded over the past few years. Fans flocking to Lincoln, Athens, and other great college towns are heading to the company’s website to ensure they can have a more cost-effective and enjoyable gameday experience. Just this past year, the company added both Oxford and Ann Arbor to a continually growing list of towns with available housing. I sat down with Mike Doyle, the company’s VP of Business Development to talk expansion, entrepreneurship, and the business behind connecting homeowners and football junkies. Check out the interview and University Football Rental's video below
There are a lot of different challenges. One thing that I've had to get a lot better at is prioritizing and creating processes. At bigger firms, there are all sorts of processes in place for every imaginable scenario. That's not the case with us - as things come up, we deal with them. That's not scalable, however, and the more you grow, the more of a problem that becomes. I've tried to spend a good deal of time formalizing the things that I do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Creating a master schedule, guidelines on how to deal with different issues, etc. I think this will become increasingly important when we start expanding the team.
Q: What drew you to work at a company like University Football Rentals?
During senior year, while in the process of looking for jobs, I remember speaking with someone about working for smaller firms/startups. I may be butchering this, but the guy had a quote that was something along the lines of "At most big companies, you can't even reach the gas pedals. At startups, they throw you the keys and make you drive the car."
I think what was the most attractive to me was that I would have the freedom to try lots of different things, and would be able to directly see the impact of my work. If I tried a new strategy that worked out well, I could point to the financials and say that I caused that growth. On the other side of the coin, however, if things started going south, there's no way to pass the buck. On top of that, I really like the challenge of growing something new - granted, when I joined the company we were already well established at Notre Dame, but expanding to new towns is a challenge that I really enjoy.
Q: How has the dynamic between University football rentals and Ann Arbor/State College/etc football rentals evolved over time?
We decided early on to have local pages for each college that we would expand to. The thought process was that for our business, national brand awareness was not a major priority, as 99.9% of our customers are only going to rent homes in one town (PSU fans rent in State College, UGA alums in Athens, etc). That has also been hugely helpful on the SEO front, as our naming strategy has helped generate lots of organic traffic for our network of sites. For our homeowners, it seems to be meaningful that we are a national company with multiple locations - it shows that we are an established and legitimate business, even if we don't have many homes in that particular town.
Q: What are the benefits of renters and homeowners from using RLAC instead of something like Airbnb?
In the majority of the markets that we're entering, Airbnb does not have a huge presence. They're a great company, but it seems that their focus is on large vacation destinations and cities - not smaller college towns. Aside from that, however, we are extremely specific in who we are marketing towards. All of our marketing dollars that go towards renters are targeted at football fan sites, alumni clubs, etc. We know who our customer is and focus in on them with all of our outreach.
Additionally, we only rent out entire homes, while a lot of Airbnb is renting out bedrooms in a home. For these types of events, people are often coming back with large groups (meeting college friends, families coming back, etc) and thus renting an entire home seems to work really well.
Q: What makes for a great new market besides a big football town. Why an Ann Arbor or State College over a West Lafayette or Madison?
The things that we look for are a large alumni base, a passionate football following, and a small(er) urban area, one that does not have enough hotel rooms to support the influx of people that show up for major events (namely football games and graduation weekends). Ann Arbor and State College have been ideal for us, in that both Michigan and Penn State have storied programs with really devoted fans, and are in smaller towns. Somewhere like Columbus is tough in that it's more of an urban area, and thus lack of hotel rooms is less of an issue. The same is true of a place like Madison, Wisconsin - the demand for this service simply isn't as high in a place like that, as there more of the traditional options available.