Mike Ross (’10), Meadville to Meet. Play. Chill.
Mike Ross is a busy guy. As the co-owner of Meet. Play. Chill., touted as Denver’s Premier Sport and Social Club, Mike does it all. “To run your own business, you have to be crazy passionate about what you are doing. You are responsible for everything. You are the one taking phone calls with customers and making things right whether what happened was your fault or not.”
A 2010 graduate of Penn State’s Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management program, Mike focused on what was then the commercial/community recreation management option as an undergraduate. Originally from Meadville, Pennsylvania, Mike knew on his first visit to the campus that Penn State was it for him.
“Happy Valley just gets in your heart,” he says with a smile. “When I was a junior and senior in high school thinking about college, I did a lot of searching on Google and was excited to find out that what I wanted to do was available as a major. I took some college tours to Colorado and was told I should go to Penn State if I wanted to do this major. I was told Penn State was the best.”
Mike’s goal was to bring pleasure to people by facilitating fun in their leisure time. Meet. Play. Chill. does exactly that.
The company offers sports leagues, tournaments, after-sport social activities for adults in the Denver area. Participants can sign up as individuals or as full teams such as work or alumni or friend groups. Each of their six seasons per year run for around two months. Since setting up the business nine years ago, Mike and his co-owner who also happens to be his wife Erin, are seeing growth.
“We are growing so fast it’s hard to estimate how many teams we have. I would guess between 1,200 and 1,500 teams. We focus on sports. When our teams arrive at a field or site, the fields are ready. The refs are there. The rosters are organized. Everything is buttoned up and ready to go.”
Mike laughed and said that it is easier to identify the sports that they don’t offer than list those that they do. They currently don’t offer ice hockey and are just now starting pickleball. They don’t offer what he called “bar sports” such as horseshoes or cornhole.
Some examples of what they do offer include volleyball, kickball, soccer, sand volleyball, flag football, dodgeball, ultimate frisbee, basketball, and even beer kickball. It’s a sports program that sometimes leads to social gatherings after the games.
“We partner with our sponsor bars for gatherings after the games but don’t charge for sponsorship. “We try to work with neighborhood bars and restaurants to send business their way and support the community. They return the favor by offering specials or gift cards for our tournaments. They love it. On a slower Tuesday night, for example, when the bar might otherwise be empty because there isn’t a football game on TV, the 100 or 200 people who gather after kickball can be a nice boost to business.”
The mission of Meet. Play. Chill. is not about alcohol, however. It is about bringing people together to have fun. In addition to organized leagues and team events, they also offer drop in events where people of all skill levels can just come together to play without the commitment of a league schedule.
Meet. Play. Chill. works with the public parks department and other private facilities to set up sites. With over 100 permits to use city parks and relationships with private owners, Mike and Erin have to be skilled at negotiation and collaboration with both public officials and business owners. At times, that means Mike’s company will contribute to the facilities—installing fencing, bringing the turf or sand up to standards, etc. One example was a nightclub that had sand volleyball courts behind it. The owner let them use the courts for free and then on the nights the club was closed would bring in a bartender for the post-game events. “That was a crazy funny situation,” said Mike. “I put in between $5,000 and $10,000 to upgrade those courts. On Drag Show nights, the entertainers would come out and watch the games in full drag. We had over 100 teams play at that site before the owner changed his business model.”
In negotiation for field use, Mike said his status as a for-profit entity means that the public park programs take priority in scheduling. Sometimes that can mean the newer or renovated fields are booked and only the basic courts and fields are available for Meet. Play. Chill. to rent. “In the end though, it’s about the people. At some of the more basic fields, our team goes in early to line fields and rake playing areas and we find that teams are there early and already starting the fun. It is the opportunity to play sports and have fun that draws people.”
Mike credits his RPTM degree with preparing him for a career in sports. Learning things in RPTM marketing courses and management courses as well as learning about the Americans with Disabilities Act have supported his success. There are, however, many aspects of running one’s own business that Mike reports can only be learned by doing it. That includes time management. As parents to a 4-year-old and 2-year-old, either Mike or Erin is always on call. “Some of our leagues go into the night,” said Mike. “If something happens and its 1:00 in the morning, we have to take the call.”
For now, the business focuses entirely on adult sports. That may change in the future. “My goal is to start a free youth program or charge a nominal fee and include lunch so that more kids can have access to sports. Who knows? Maybe someday I will sell this business and open a youth sports non-profit.”
His advice to emerging RPTM professionals is to make use of the connections that Penn State offers and to gain experience. Mike attributes building networks to his success. “When COVID happened, businesses weren’t given any notice. We heard about it at the same press conference as everyone else. We called it Black Monday. Our team made the decision to refund the $30,000 in registration fees for COVID-cancelled programs because we weren’t sure of what was coming. Our competitor offered their registrants credit and kept the money. After COVID, our folks came back strong. It’s those kinds of decisions that bring people back.”
Phone calls in the middle of the night. Refereeing when someone calls out. Registration and marketing. Running a business with a young family. Mike Ross is a busy man but finds the time to Meet. Play. Chill.