July 3, 2015 UBJ

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12 | COVER

MAN COVERAGE How a Furman grad and former offensive lineman blitzed the Upstate with competitive adult recreational sports



It all started on the gridiron. Football initially lured Greenville Sports Leagues (GSL) president and owner Joe Wilson to the Upstate, where he played offensive line while attending Furman University; though Greenville – and for a while, even sports – weren’t always the end zone. A “big sports guru growing up,” he played several sports since age 5, but got serious about football. After high school and college careers, Wilson said he “tried to play in the pros, but it didn’t quite happen.” Instead, Wilson left the Upstate after graduation and pursued a career in medical sales. But as fate (and fun) would have it, Wilson found himself back in the area seven years ago, where he soon after met his current business partner, John Sharkey, through mutual friends. “We just started hanging out, became best friends, became roommates and ultimately became business partners,” Wilson said. They started playing and organizing pick-up games. “It started growing and growing and growing,” he recalls. “It was 50, 60 then 75 people.” So the two guys started to wonder. “I was like, hey, I love sports, there could be a business here, and let’s see what happens.,” Wilson said. Sharkey reached out to his buddy Philip Steen in Nashville, who had experience launching and running some sports

leagues there. Steen and Sharkey had met when they used to run restaurants and bars for Boulevard Nightlife Group (BNG), one of the largest nightclub companies in the country. The three guys formed a team, and GSL kicked off. Now, four years later, the local, competitive adult recreation league offers an impressive menu of sporting options during all four seasons. Participants have swelled to 10,000 annually and the league has official partnerships with multiple Upstate municipalities. GSL has also expanded into the private corporate league and tournament verticals; tournaments such as bubble soccer and dodgeball are held periodically throughout the year. Read on as Wilson breaks down the GSL business strategy – and explains to UBJ how they’re just warming up.

How long had Nashville Sports Leagues been established before you decided to replicate that model here, and how did that work? NSL has been in business for about 10 years. [Philip Steen] started it there. GSL is going into its fourth year. We originally went to Phil for some help. We were like, “Hey, we want to do a sports league. Since you have the expertise, we would like to bring you in,” and that’s when Phil became my and Sharkey’s partner in the whole endeavor. We’ve branched out as a company, and so Sharkey and I also own Augusta Sports Leagues [ASL], and we are going into some other markets. Probably in the next six months, we’re going into two markets other than Greenville and Augusta. They’re in Alabama and Louisiana. >>