In late 2008, Jussi Meresmaa left his day job at the advertising agency and started a new company, Innova Champion Europe Ltd. Around that time Jussi also hired his first employee outside of the family. He was a Turku native Juho “Always a Happy Guy” Rantalaiho. Together with Juho they started to execute a plan Jussi had been working on for years.
From a distance, the formula is quite simple: In order to grow the company, you need to grow the sport. In order to grow the sport, you need 3 things: Courses, aka places where people can play; Equipment that is easy to acquire; and publicity for the sport. Now we’ll get into the publicity part a little later, but let’s first concentrate on the equipment.
For a relatively unknown sport, it’s actually quite amazing that Jussi and Juho were able to land a deal of equipment distribution with the biggest chain of sporting goods stores in Finland, Intersport. All of a sudden, disc golf products were available all across Finland, generating probably the biggest surge of exposure for the sport outside the scene itself so far. With the great products of the Innova family, including the Discmania’s models available at the time, many people found a new lifetime hobby from the aisles of the sporting goods stores.
Concentrating our operations only in Finland has never been the plan. Internationality is one of the four core values of the company. The other core values are Innovativeness, Perseverance and Openness. We focus on them in each of our weekly meetings, where we discuss how our work supported these values each week. Everyone in the company knows these values by heart. Whatever we do from designing DiscGolfParks, to selling equipment and organizing large events, or to innovating concepts, it is fueled by our values. We are the first global disc golf business with offices and representatives in several European countries. Furthermore, we established our US office Discmania, Inc. in the beginning of 2014.
DiscGolfPark Changes The Game
While setting up the distribution channel for the disc golf products was a great achievement, simply having the equipment out there was not enough to get people introduced to the sport. What really changed the game was the introduction of a simple way for communities and companies to acquire courses. DiscGolfPark was fuel to the fire of the Finnish disc golf boom.
The DiscGolfPark concept carries the ideology, that a course is more than a set of baskets in the woods – it’s a complete package including course design that takes into account both the safety measures towards the other users of the area, as well as the needs of players of different skill levels. Besides the design aspect, the DiscGolfPark concept features turf TeePads, targets and map design produced by a professional and featured on TeeSigns and and InfoBoards at the course. Essentially, what DiscGolfPark offers, is a low entry level environment for new players, opposed to most courses that were not as easily approachable.
And the best thing about DiscGolfPark and disc golf courses in general is that when compared to just any other sports facilities, their cost is very low. This combination of cost-effectiveness and approachability made DiscGolfPark a perfect match for the newly founded demand of the Finnish market. But while the old saying of “if you build it, they will come” does apply to some extent, the success story of the Finnish disc golf scene was not build on just this one block.
The Miracle of Finnish Disc Golf
You see, there’s only a limited amount of attraction towards shiny metal baskets in the parks, if the people don’t know what they are about. And while having courses within reach equipped with proper signage and a network of places to pick up the necessary equipment, active sports promotion was at the very foundation of the growth spurt of disc golf in Finland we’ve witnessed in the past ten years.
As marketing was at the core of Jussi’s know-how, the people working around him happened to come more from the world of marketing and communications, rather than from the world of sales. It’s a popular saying here that “we are an organization dedicated to promote disc golf and we happen to sell some merchandise along the way”. This is not to say there wouldn’t be a whole lot of passion towards the products we put out. Simply put, we’ve always been very focused in first and foremost promoting the sport both inside and outside the existing player base rather than trying to push our brand to those who already have their bags full of discs.
Despite this lack of maximizing short-term sales, one will find our disc golf equipment available everywhere in Finland. The amount of courses has exploded from 20 to almost 600 in 15 years. Disc Golf has been on national TV almost every year since the European Championships in 2005. The sport is constantly referenced in popular culture, such as TV series and hit songs. Disc Golf is an everyday thing in Finland.
One might ask, what next? For the past three years, a group of influential Finnish Disc Golf promoters, including some of our staff, have developed a Finnish Disc Golf Trainers’ association. This has been done in collaboration with the governing body, Finnish Disc Golf Association. The purpose of this project is to create a multi-level educational system for Disc Golf in Finland. This way the sport will be there to stay; it will not fade away when the biggest boom is over. They have already trained over hundred instructors, who now teach disc golf exactly the same way and with same materials. For 2017, the main priority is to educate schools on how to take disc golf in their physical exercise program. In the near future, there will be dedicated coaches and organized youth camps.
Disc Golf World Tour
Disc Golf World Tour’s purpose is to expand the awareness of Disc Golf all over the world. For Jussi and Innova Europe, it is really important to promote the sport all over the world. The biggest existing disc golf market (United States) has already well established tours, so DGWT’s mission is to promote Disc Golf actively outside the US.