Like many great businesses, Rent Like a Champion started out as an entirely different sort of enterprise. Mike Doyle had helped create a company in South Bend, Indiana, focused on student housing near Notre Dame University. With a fairly large inventory to rent to students, Doyle was regularly left with a few vacant properties each semester. Needing to pay the mortgage on those empty homes, he realized he could rent the properties out on weekends when the Fighting Irish had home football games.
The football part of the business became so successful that it wasn’t long until the company shifted gears, and Rent Like a Champion was born. “The thought was there are a lot of big-time football programs in smaller college towns where they get this influx of 70,000 or 80,000 people, and there are not enough hotel rooms for them to stay,” Doyle said.
From 2006 through 2010, the company focused on South Bend. But in 2011, it expanded to State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State. Today, the company rents more than 3,500 homes with a focus on 25 university towns. The typical guests are families with six to eight people who use a game as a mini-reunion of sorts, or groups of alumni or couples that travel back to campus for a game and want to stay together, Doyle said.
The company seemed so promising that it earned a spot for Doyle and his partners on a 2015 episode of “Shark Tank,” where they convinced Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban and venture capitalist Chris Sacca to buy a 10 percent stake of the company for $200,000, with a plan to extend the concept to other sports events. “A lot of great things came out of it,” Doyle said of appearing on the show.
Among other things, Doyle’s new partners advised him that there was likely a sports market beyond college football. As a result, the company now has a deal with a dozen PGA Tour events to provide houses for players and their families as well as caddies and sponsors.
But the core business remains college football. “In almost all these towns on football weekends, the hotels are going to be sold out because demand so outstrips supply,” Doyle said. “If there are no other options, they’re going to stay in a hotel room 40 minutes down the road. It’s going to make for a worse weekend for these people, and they won’t be spending as much money in town. We think it’s a good thing to keep people in town.”