For small businesses like DC Fray, whose mission is to “make fun possible” through organized sports leagues, corporate team-building activities and event marketing production, the changed nature of how people connect and spend their time has impacted the way they conduct business and support their corporate clients.
Washington DC Economic Partnership (WDCEP): How are you fulfilling your mission virtually given that a lot of DC Fray programming was previously in-person?
Robert Kinsler (RK): I truly believe our mission is needed now more than ever, particularly on a macro-level. With that line of thinking guiding our pivot at the onset of the pandemic, we focused on figuring out how to continue delivering on our mission in a new capacity given the circumstantial constraints. The past five to six months have consisted of making fun possible particularly in the form of virtual events, as well as navigating how to continue operating in-person events that adhere to all the necessary safety requirements. Both endeavors still draw on the same philosophies, objectives, energies, and skillsets.
Our event production arm of United Fray now juggles in-person, virtual, and hybrid event production for our corporate clients. Continuing to host various employee engagement and team-building events during the pandemic challenged us to reimagine how we can help companies strengthen their culture and build connection while physically apart. Some examples of what we now offer as virtual experiences include trivia, bingo, cocktail making and cooking classes, and 30-day health and fitness challenges. For clients that are comfortable navigating the socially distanced aspect of gathering and obtain the necessary permitting, we still offer our sports leagues and other safely organized in-person activities like drive-in movies.
We’re also carrying on our role of being a cheerleader for the District with our District Fray Magazine, which we acquired about a year ago. We rebranded at the beginning of 2020 to focus on local and personal interest stories—think culture, music, food, and stories of District-based entrepreneurs making waves!
WDCEP: What have been the challenging parts of navigating this pandemic as a business owner?
RK: Honestly, this is the hardest thing this company has had to go through in its ten-year history. The nitty gritty is that we were at 30 fulltime staff and now we are less than ten people. Although we’ve lost a lot of money, we’re lucky that the company was relatively well capitalized. We participated in the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan. My team has made massive sacrifices, taken pay cuts, and adapted to restructuring. DC Fray’s senior team has really come together to do everything we can to get to the other side of this storm. It’s been a real blessing to have the level of commitment and buy-in from the senior team, particularly because there are always other opportunities in the District (when compared to other cities).
As a small business, we’ve got an uphill battle—we are competing with the big guys for hiring, we are competing with a robust jobs market, and we still need to execute our services at a certain level of sophistication to our clients. We’re doing everything we can to figure out how to bridge the gap that this pandemic has created… we have brought in new revenue, but the challenge is to now scale those avenues to a size and volume that can support the full team.
WDCEP: Where do you see the future of sports and social leagues going?
RK: I have sat on the board of The Sport & Social Industry Association for the past five years. We created an impact survey earlier this year to get a sense of the state of the industry, and just released a one-sheeter on our findings. In short, we found that about 33% clubs have lost all of their revenue, and another 50% of clubs have lost between 50-95% of revenue—so to be quite frank, the state of sports and social leagues is devastating.
If you asked me a month ago what the future of sports looked like, I was much more optimistic—we were under the impression we would have been able to operate a larger portion of our leagues this fall. There is an odd dichotomy surfacing where pick-up play is happening, but organized play is not allowed to happen due to blanket bans. Organized play is a way to ensure clear communication, accountability, contact tracing, and enforcement of rules in a way that pick-up play doesn’t. There’s certainly a way to play sports outdoors safely while also encouraging outlets for physical health, mental well-being, and a strong sense of community… all of which are very important in the face of a pandemic!
Robert Kinsler Founder + CEO, DC Fray
Connect with DC Fray via their website or @DCFray.