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Wharton-trained brothers revive City Sports

Game on! City Sports is hoping to rise from the athletic-apparel graveyard under the ownership of a pair of Wharton-trained brothers who love sports and have been outfitting suburban soccer enthusiasts.

Blake Sonnek-Schmelz (left) and brother Brent bought the intellectual property rights for the defunct City Sports at a bankruptcy auction in December for $400,000. The two plan to revive the 26-store chain.
Blake Sonnek-Schmelz (left) and brother Brent bought the intellectual property rights for the defunct City Sports at a bankruptcy auction in December for $400,000. The two plan to revive the 26-store chain.Read moreKRISTEN SONNEK-SCHMELZ

Game on!

City Sports is hoping to rise from the athletic-apparel graveyard under the ownership of a pair of Wharton-trained brothers who love sports and have been outfitting suburban soccer enthusiasts.

Brent Sonnek-Schmelz, 39, and brother Blake, 37, bought the intellectual property rights - IP for short - for City Sports at a bankruptcy auction in December for $400,000.

"By having the IP, it gives us the name 'City Sports' to use, its logo, data list of customers, and website," Brent Sonnek-Schmelz said last week. "We're going to be City Sports. The name has tremendous brand meaning to customers, and that's why we acquired it."

They already know a thing or two about running a sports-themed company.

Blake Sonnek-Schmelz has owned Soccer Post, a franchisor of soccer equipment and all things soccer-related for men, women, and youths since 2010. His brother has been CFO and general counsel of Soccer Post - which caters exclusively to a suburban clientele - since 2013.

Brent Sonnek-Schmelz said the reincarnated City Sports will focus on "the serious, adult urban athlete, ages 25 to 40."

"The company had some new owners that decided to expand aggressively into suburban markets and . . . it caused the whole company to suffer," he said. "The core city athlete is who will make this successful."

Blake Sonnek-Schmelz said the new City Sports will cater to the adult athletic community and become a place for training and bonding.

"City Sports Philadelphia will be a specialty training shop, unlike any store in Philadelphia or the U.S.," he said. "Through a culture that is focused on aspirational, athletic training, we will connect with our customers, and connect them with specific products in a way that nobody currently can."

The brothers launched a $15 men's City Sports T-shirt on www.citysports.com and Facebook.com/citysports on Thursday. Brent Sonnek-Schmelz said other merchandise would soon be added.

They plan to open new stores, one at a time, over the next year in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Washington.

"Philly is one of our key targets," Brent Sonnek-Schmelz said. He and his brother view it as a $10 million to $15 million market.

He said the former City Sports store at 1608 Walnut St. was among the top three performers in the 26-store, all-East Coast chain before it filed for bankruptcy last year.

Competitor Modell's acquired the lease for that site and plans to move in this spring. Brent Sonnek-Schmelz said a new City Sports site has not been decided yet, but "brokers are calling me every day."

In its first incarnation, City Sports started in the Boston area in the early 1980s, grew over time, and expanded down the East Coast to Washington.

The peak year was 2014, when it grossed about $80 million.

Retail analysts say the athletic apparel market has grown increasingly competitive and deeply fragmented with consumers ranging from the marathon trainer to the occasional camper.

Last week Moody's downgraded Sports Authority's junk credit rating another notch after it failed to make an interest payment on a $300 million loan.

Sports ran deep for both Sonnek-Schmelz brothers growing up. "We skied, played basketball, and swam," Brent Sonnek-Schmelz said. Both played rugby while at Wharton.

Blake Sonnek-Schmelz is a world-champion jet skier who graduated from Wharton in 2008. Brent Sonnek-Schmelz won $100,000 on the TV game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in 2010. He graduated from Wharton in 2003 and Penn Law in 2006.

The pair are getting some assistance from half a dozen Wharton MBA students who are enrolled in the one-credit course, Field Application Process. They chose City Sports' revival as their semester project.

They are unpaid consultants with "an advisory role in helping Brent and Blake fill in the holes," said FAP team member Jesse Ge, 28.

Sarah Squire, 27, who shopped at City Sports in the past, said the brand resonated with her FAP team, who all are in their mid-to-late 20s.

"I am definitely into fitness and an outdoors-type of person," Squire said Thursday inside a Wharton classroom. The team met with FAP director Keith Weigelt for their once-a-week, 45-minute powwow to go over ideas.

Squire said her group was developing a new retail concept for the company, including a brick-and-mortar footprint, an online digital strategy, and inventory management.

"If all people wanted was to come in and buy a pair of sneakers, they can go online," said Brent, who has been talking up the relaunch with key vendors, such as Nike and Under Armour. "We have to offer more."

He said the new City Sports will help you join a running club and help get you ready for the Philadelphia Marathon if that is your goal. It also may sponsor community events, such as yoga in the park.

The Sonnek-Schmelz brothers have their eyes not just on the East Coast, but overseas as well, especially London and Paris.

"There's a gap in the market, especially in the great cities," Brent Sonnek-Schmelz said. "We are offering something totally different.

"We have an opportunity to create a new model in sports retail by becoming that community hub."

sparmley@phillynews.com

215-854-4184@SuzParmley

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