by Joseph N. DiStefano
Staff Writer | JoeD@phillynews.com
Way back in 2001, Brian Kerrigan and Kari Altman were internet pioneers.
Now, the Philadelphia couple are hustling to keep the growing Team Sports Planet, the multinational team-uniforms business they run from a former harness factory in South Philly, in the face of aggressive investments by Amazon.com and other larger players in yet another fast-consolidating, digitally driven niche industry.
Altman, from Yardley, and Kerrigan, from Upper Darby, moved back to Philly because they wanted to raise a family here after spending the 1990s in New York City, where he headed a Wall Street software shop and she built corporate websites.
“We were the first pure-online team-uniform dealer — football uniforms, baseball uniforms, basketball uniforms,” Kerrigan said.
They started with softball. “Our first bright idea was to be female-focused,” he told me from his third-floor office next to the design studio. “Most team dealers were grumpy middle-aged guys driving around to see the football coach at the high school. They thought of softball as guys drinking beer.”
But Altman had pitched at Pennsbury High School, and saw that coaches and team sponsors were ready to move their orders online, to people who spoke their language: “Almost all of our reps are women. Moms selling to moms.”
Back then, “even the manufacturers weren’t online,” Kerrigan said. “The team dealers weren’t online.” Scrounging early softball websites, he found an unprotected spreadsheet on which a national sports group had left 5,000 contacts for fast-pitch coaches. Kerrigan and Altman made it a sales-lead list. After landing local school and league orders, they started recruiting U.S. expatriate teams on bases abroad, which led to military team orders.