Chris Calandro, Founder and CEO of Big Game Football, talks about his unique company and making the majority of the college game footballs in the country in this Profiles in Leadership segment. High School coaches, CLICK HERE to get game balls for your school. Everyone else, CLICK HERE to get commemorative balls or college game balls.

Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.


Matt Register: Welcome back to the show, Texas Business Radio. Texasbusinessradio.com is the website. Jay Curry had to step out for a minute. I’m your host, Matt Register. We’re going to jump right into it. If you’ve listened to the show for any length of time you know we have some special segments every once in a while, and this is one of them. This is one of our profiles in leadership segments. We bring you companies that we think are very remarkable or doing something that is quite remarkable.

We have a story and a business in Dallas that I think you’re going to want to hear about. It was something that when I ran into them I was blown away at what they had going on. The company is Big Game USA, Big Game USA footballs. They also have … Team Issue is the brand of footballs, custom footballs. These guys make most of the game footballs for college football in the United States. A very remarkable company, and we have the founder/owner/CEO/head honcho over there, Chris Calandro on Skype. Chris, welcome to the show sir.

Chris Calandro: Thanks for having me. An honor to be called a special segment. That’s great.

Matt Register: Tell me a little bit about Big Game, because I had the pleasure of going to your business, touring your plant, and was absolutely blown away with it. Tell me what do you do and who do you do it to?

Chris Calandro: Well, simply stated we just make footballs. That what we do all day, all day long. We are sort of a custom shop. We do stuff in batches. We don’t really make a million of the same football. We do it in smaller batches, so we customize them for whatever the customer wants really.

Matt Register: And that’s the one part that didn’t really exist out in the marketplace. Talk to me about how this business started, because we were talking when I did the tour and the story of how you started, what gap you saw in the market, is fascinating.

Chris Calandro: Yeah. It’s 25 years ago. I’m getting older, but I saw … I really wanted to buy something and I didn’t see anything in the market like it. It was basically what we sell now, but it’s a football just for display. I only wanted to buy six of them for my high school. I called all the big players in the market and I really couldn’t find anyone who would take such a small order.

I thought this is one thing I can do. I can figure stuff out. That’s sort of a gift that I have. I just figured out how to do it and it wasn’t really that complicated, but I did get a patent on it and I was able to make some footballs for my high school, just six of them, and give them to the coaches.

It just kind of grew from there. I just showed it to some other teams, and you know the trick in sales, once you have one customer you can sort of use that to convince other people. When you have the University of Texas you can call A&M and say, “Hey, they’re doing it across the-”

Matt Register: These guys are doing it. You want to keep up. You need to do it too, right?

Chris Calandro: Right. There you go.

Matt Register: Being able to go in and buy small runs of custom footballs, this is everything from signature balls, commemorative balls, to actual embossed professional game balls, and this is something that you’ve been doing for colleges for quite some time, correct?

Chris Calandro: Correct. Yeah. About … We made display footballs for a lot of years there, really over a decade ago or so. It’s getting close to 20 years actually. I used to give my buddies tours of the place and show them what we did and generally they’d say like, “Oh, so you make like toy footballs? You don’t make like real footballs?”

I’d always go like ah. I don’t want to be like making toy footballs or display footballs. I want to make real footballs. So, again, about a dozen years ago I made a commitment to learn how to make a good leather football. We figured it out. It’s complicated and there’s a bunch of secrets you have to know to be able to make a good football, but we really have mastered our craft. We’re still learning. But we picked up some good customers and it’s grown and grown, and now until this day we make darn near all college game footballs. We have a blossoming high school business, as you know.

Matt Register: I find that interesting. I mean you literally make a very, very big chunk of all the college footballs played on Saturdays in the United States. In fact, for the guys who are watching at texasbusinessradio.com, watching the video, that’s Roger Staubach, a photo of Roger Staubach behind you, holding the Navy game ball, right?

Chris Calandro: Yeah, that’s right. Navy is a special account. A dumb little story, but one of my biggest life regrets is I didn’t serve in the military and it’s just an honor to work with Navy. They get it. We work real hard to make a lot of display footballs or a lot of special edition footballs when they play Army and different games. They like to do some special uniforms, and so we make a special football for them. They love us, we love them. It’s just an honor to work with them.

Matt Register: With your shift into offering now these college/university caliber game footballs over to high schools, and these are leather game balls with the school embossed on them and very, very professional looking stuff, you just multiplied your number of clients by like 300, right, I mean potential clients?

We talked last episode about some of the blue and red ocean strategies, red ocean being a business that’s very busy with competition and a lot of people in it, or a blue ocean, where you go into an area that nobody else is there. There’s really not a whole lot of players in this market, right?

Chris Calandro: Not doing what we do. Matt, I’m not smart enough to really have figured this out from the beginning. I just sort of stumbled onto it, but we just … Like that story I gave you earlier about making something no one else made, on the leather football market too for high schools we’re doing something else no one else does, which is we allow them to customize the ball for their liking. It’s just … You know business. You got companies who sort of been doing the same thing for a long time and it’s refreshing to see somebody who does it a little different.

We can all think of examples, like Uber and Amazon and some of those juggernauts, but we’re sort of doing the same thing on a smaller scale, is just doing something that just hasn’t been done before. It’s not incredibly creative or difficulty, it’s just no one has ever thought about doing it before.

Matt Register: Well, I would probably disagree with you on that point. However, this allows you to open it up and being able to run small runs of balls and being able to take a look at the rules, right, and find some wiggle room within and to find some areas you can customize within the balls. For instance, when I was at your shop I guess there’s no rule on what color the laces have to be. There’s a little bit of wiggle room there, right?

Chris Calandro: There is. Again, we just sort of look at the rules from a different slant or from a fresh angle. The rules are fairly long and fairly complicated, but there’s a lot of things they don’t really have anything to say about. Like you said, colored laces was one thing that there’s nothing in the rules that says they have to be white. So we just thought it would be interesting to give some customization and give the high school team the ability to change it to their color.

You know high school teams too are … Most coaches get this now, but they’re building a brand. They’re out there trying to get community support around them. Some of them sell merchandise too, so we help them promote their brand by creating a football that not only spins like crazy and it’s a really good football, but it looks nice too and it helps them to sort of brand their program.

Matt Register: Well, and something like there’s nothing else like it, and I promise you what ends up happening is one coach is going to end up getting these footballs and the next year everybody is going to try to keep up because these really are a remarkable product for those coaches, trying to do something to build up their brand for their team, and the kids love it.

I just find the whole thing quite fascinating, so hats off to you for building a company that didn’t … In a market that didn’t exist before and thriving and growing, and hats off to you. You outsmarted … Something a lot of people who have tried and failed, right?

Chris Calandro: Maybe I got lucky or a little blessed. I’m not sure which one, some combination of both.

Matt Register: That’s right. We all take luck, right? That’s got to be a big part of it. Now there’s a couple of places people can go online and find out more about you, right? Tell me if I mess this up. But coaches, you want to go to teamissue.com.

Chris Calandro: Right.

Matt Register: That is coaches and people who control the ability for a team to purchase ball, correct?

Chris Calandro: Yeah. Leather game football that’s going to be some miles on it, that’s where you want to go.

Matt Register: You also have biggameusa.com. Biggameusa.com is where you go to order a commemorative ball, where you go to purchase college game balls perhaps?

Chris Calandro: Correct. Yeah. We sell … For a bunch of colleges, if you want to buy one, particularly of regional significance like A&M, Texas, LSU, Oklahoma, you can go and you can buy the official on field football right at our website at biggameusa.

Matt Register: Got it. All right. Unfortunately we’re out of time. Chris Calandro, CEO of Big Game USA and Team Issue. Thank you very much for joining us Chris.

Chris Calandro: Thanks for having me. It’s been an honor.

Matt Register: Yeah. Absolutely. Unfortunately we got to go pay a couple of our own bills. We got a whole lot more Texas Business Radio coming on right after this. Don’t go anywhere.

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