CC&A: How did you become
involved in the cheerleading industry and Univer-sal Cheerleaders
Jeffery Webb, chairman and CEO of
Varsity Brands, Inc: I was a cheerleader in college at the
University of Oklahoma. Right after graduation, I went to work for the
National Cheerleaders Assoc-iation with Lawrence Herkimer. Then, about
a year after I started there, I was named vice president and general
manager. I worked for the NCA for about two or three years.
In 1975, I left the NCA to start the Universal
Cheerleaders Association. What we really did with cheerleading and the
whole concept of starting UCA was to add an athletic component to
cheerleading. In those days, there were very few partner stunts or
pyramids. We added that entire dimension including a kind of
entertainment aspect as well. We pioneered the look of what modern
cheerleading is today.
When we started UCA we wanted to create a structural
organization that increased the level of individual instruction, the
quality of instruction and the overall experience of the students who
participated. You have to remember; in those days there were only two
aspects of the spirit industry. There were camps and there was only one
uniform company. There were no competitions. We pioneered the whole
concept of large competitions with the National High School
Cheerleading Championship in Orlando.
We were the first competition to be televised. When we began
being televised in 1980, the idea wasn’t to create a huge event to be
on television. We were a small organization, especially compared to
NCA; they were still the largest by far. We didn’t have the money to
expand nationally and our style and brand were so different that we
were trying to create a way for people to see what we were doing so we
could expand faster. We didn’t have the capital to expand, so we
created the event to put it on television for the exposure.
Back in those days, there were only three ways to be
on television: you were on one of the national networks, you were on
local television or you were in > syndication. Fortunately, we were
able to team up with a high quality sports syndicater; you see, cable
was in its infancy at this time so it wasn’t an option at the
After being in syndication for three year (we had 20
teams at our first event), we continued to grow and in 1983 we moved to
a small upstart cable company in Connecticut named ESPN. As ESPN’s
footprint grew, we created more events so that we could grow along side
CC&A: How did you develop
and start Varsity Brands?
Jeff Webb: In 1979, we added
the uniform component to our business and we called the line Varsity
Spirit Fashions, as it’s still called today. When we went public in
1992 the entire umbrella was put under Varsity Spirit Corporation.
Then, when the company was taken private in a management-led buy back
in 2004; we had accumulated so many different brands in the spirit
industry that we felt we should change the name to Varsity Brands.
CC&A: What do you attribute
to the success of UCA and Varsity Brands?
Jeff Webb: I think that we’ve
always focused on trying to do the right thing for the young people who
are involved in the activity. From the very beginning, we employed in
our business culture a lot the things that have been popularized over
the last decade--things like continuous improvement and having a
customer-centric focus. I think we’ve also been very fortunate to have
a lot of great people who have believed in our philosophy, the way we
do things and what we’re trying to do. They have been attracted enough
to affiliate on a long-term permanent basis with our company. And we’ve
benefited from their talent and their commitment.
Building a business from scratch is hard. I ran the
business from my apartment the first three years. We’ve had 30
consecutive years of growth and I’m not sure many companies can say
that. If you took all the other cheerleading companies’ gross revenues,
we’d be larger than all of them combined.
We’ve tried to run the business by focusing on doing
the right thing, having great people, delivering a great product, being
open to change and running a sound business. We’ve made some mistakes
along the way, but you always hope you make more good decisions than
CC&A: Varsity is such a
large company; do you ever worry that it might be overwhelming to your
customers for it to be so large?
Jeff Webb: At crucial times,
we’ve regionalized our business. We have regional managers, state
directors, and 250 full-time sales people. We want to be able to take
advantage of our national scope and be able to create great programs
and leverage our strength; we want to do the things that having scale
allows us to do. As far as our customers are concerned, we want to be
able to deliver and interact with them locally. I think that’s been the
key to being able to sustain our growth and to also sustain the
relationships that have helped build our business.
CC&A: What would you like
people to know about Varsity Brands that you don’t think they already
Jeff Webb: We have a number of
different organizations and brands under the umbrella of Varsity.
Varsity is what you’d call a halo brand. The individual brands maintain
their own identity and nuances, so that our customers have a choice. We
are committed to that philosophy. The brands operate somewhat
independently, although woven through the culture that binds those
brands together are certain principles and values like integrity and
customer emphasis. Those are the things that we share in common, but
they have individual identities so that there is a choice.
Our many companies include: Universal Cheerleaders
Association, National Cheerleaders Association, Varsity Spirit
Fashions, Cheerleader Danz Team, United Spirit Association, Universal
Dance Association, American Cheerleaders Association, National Dance
Association, Athletic Champion-ships, Premier Athletics, Varsity.com
and Select Soccer Brand.
Varsity Brands, Inc.
6745 Lenox Center Court
Memphis, TN 38115