When Lakeville-born Alan Arlt moved to New York City after graduating from the University of Minnesota, his activity of choice was basketball, particularly on a team consisting of his workmates. The slapdash nature of the games, however, was off-putting to the detail-oriented Arlt, as games were played without referees or proper scoring and stat-keeping. From this observation came a goal: to offer average Joes a competitive basketball experience comparable to the NBA or collegiate level.
Arlt moved back to Minneapolis in 2006 to start Ultimate Hoops. With 26 million Americans playing basketball—4.1 million of whom play in recreational leagues, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association—he felt the market was ripe.
“When we started,” Arlt says, “our biggest point of differentiation was our website. We offer full stats, photos, videos, everything.” In 2008, Ultimate Hoops caught the attention of Bahram Akradi, the CEO of Minneapolis-based Life Time Fitness. Life Time bought Ultimate that year, connecting the fitness chain’s national reach with Ultimate’s data tools. The partnership has brought mutual gains: Ultimate’s membership (they must join Life Time) grew to 20,000 (roughly 1 percent of Life Time members) while Life Time gained a unique amenity.
As a fee-based subsidiary of Life Time, Ultimate earns much of its revenue on the court from the 45 seasonal 10-week recreational basketball leagues it operates across the nation. Branded apparel has also been a moneymaker for the company, although both of those sources pale in comparison to its training business. “In 2014 we launched our basketball skills training business, and that has been a runaway success for us,” Arlt says of the division that now makes up roughly 70 percent of the multimillion-dollar company’s income. Demand for services such as one-on-one training and group coaching has skyrocketed, he says, most notably among youth players.
To further fuel interest, Ultimate Hoops is aligned with a number of big names in pro hoops. “For the last three years we’ve put on the Maya Moore Academy here at the Target Center,” Arlt says. “As a three-time WNBA champion and 2014 WNBA MVP, she brings a lot of credibility. But perhaps our biggest partnership for a [fundamentals] event happened this year with [New York Knicks forward] Carmelo Anthony.”