Sports housing veteran Josh Akright has a new home at Team Travel Source, a move that could change the foundation of the industry.
With Akright on board as a partner and vice president of business development, TTS is now arguably the biggest player in sports event housing.
Short term, the partnership ensures sports organizers can maintain a relationship with a partner they trust when little else is certain. Long term, the partnership has the potential to provide a guiding light in a part of sports tourism often criticized for inconsistencies and sometimes unscrupulous practices.
“Our business has always been the Wild West,” says Akright. “There is no governing body or rules, per se. Housing has always been looked at as the red-headed stepchild in the industry—the necessary evil.”
The partners agree Team Travel Source now has the size and expertise to effect positive change. It already does significant business in cheerleading, (including with Varsity Brands) volleyball and lacrosse. Akright adds a client base rich in soccer, in-line skating, ice hockey, tackle football and even facilities—a new arena TTS was eager to enter. Close to 50 Pse customers, including DE Turf and Rocky Top Sports World, have already followed Akright over to Team Travel Source.
A New Door Opens
The Knoxville, Tennessee-based Akright, a former collegiate and pro hockey player, became a household name in event housing when he founded T3 Travel in 2008. In 2015, Pse Event Housing acquired T3, reuniting Akright with his Western Michigan University hockey teammate Jeff Lukasak, who had previously sold Pse to Legacy Global Sports.
Akright remained vice president at Pse until this summer, when COVID-19 forced Legacy Global Sports to file for bankruptcy. While he could easily have been concerned with his own livelihood, Akright’s immediate concern was the clients left in limbo from Legacy Global Sports’ fall.
“A lot of customers are dear friends of mine,” he says. “I’ve worked with them for 10, 15, 20 years.”
Ultimately, Akright decided the best way to protect those organizer’s business was to team up with an existing entity.
While previously competitors, albeit friendly, Higdon says she has always respected Akright. “Pse and Team Travel Source would often come up against each other in the finals for bids, and now I know why,” she says. “When I thought about having a partner in the industry, there are many people I respect, but Josh is right at the top of the list.”
When forging the partnership, Akright realized he operated similarly to Team Travel Source with emphasis put on transparency and integrity. As a result, a mutually beneficial deal fell into place relatively quickly.
The benefits of the deal are already apparent. Team Travel Source was able to throw a lifeline to Pse clients left in a lurch by Legacy Global Sports’ bankruptcy, reinforcing Akright’s commitment to them. Not only was it the right thing to do but it built a bridge toward the partnership.
“I knew 90% of PSE’s customers were going wherever Josh went,” Higdon says. “They trusted him wholeheartedly through a really rough time.”
The timing worked out well for Team Travel Source. Higdon acknowledges she and LaFramboise were ready to expand the company’s reach. Because the co-owners have proven to be fiscally responsible, they are in a position to maintain staff, add members of Akright’s team and keep pushing forward at a time when many other entities within the events industry are fighting for survival.
Indeed, TTS has assisted with a surprisingly large number of events during the pandemic, Higdon says. But changes in national, state, and local restrictions have forced the group to be nimble and act last-minute on more than a few occasions. Other noticeable differences are the number of participants is down significantly from a year ago and determining a hotel’s point of contact has been challenging. Often, the same sales representative is representing more than one property—a sign of streamlined times.
Consolidation is likely to be common in all sectors of sports tourism with many operators and vendors trying to stay afloat until numbers return to past normalcy. Given the case numbers across the country, which forced no less than the Big 10 and Pac-12 to cancel their fall sports, it seems likely the industry will have to wait until early next year for signs of significant improvement.
Higdon says “there are plenty of competitors” out there even with Team Travel Source and Akright under one roof. They think the partnership will not only be beneficial for them but sports tourism, in general.
“I think the industry needs consolidation and its better for the consumer because of the lack of consistency with the product that is out there,” Akright says. “It helps the little guys because there is a gorilla in the market that’s well-respected … we are going to lead by example.”