From the Ground Up: The History of Stretch Internet

Most of you have had some interaction with Stretch Internet founder and president Ryan Ermeling, but I bet not many have heard the story of how the company came to be.  I had the chance to sit down with Mr. Stretch himself and asked everything from where the company name originated to what he believes the future has in store.  A timeline, if you will, of how Stretch Internet was born and you may be surprised at just how far the company has come.

Question: Give us some insight into your past jobs and what led up to you becoming the president of Stretch Internet.

Ryan: I was a communications graduate and worked in athletics media relations straight out of college.  I graduated in 1997 and worked at the community college level and then was fortunate enough to work at a Division I school.  I worked with the Cal State Fullerton baseball program and that was an awesome experience. I got my ring in 2004 when they beat Texas for the College World Series title and then I pulled a “John Elway” and “retired,” and that was the last game I worked as an SID.  I started Stretch when I was still at Fullerton and pursued it full time after that 2004 season.

Question: How did you first come up with the idea for Stretch?

I am an entrepreneur by accident.  The initial idea for Stretch was not to develop a company that has blossomed the way it has.  We have been very fortunate and it has surpassed my wildest dreams in terms of growth.  When I started it in the fall of 2003, the idea was for me to do something on the side that was fun and unique.  There was a real opening at that point to provide streaming for, not so much Division I schools, but D-II, D-III, and NAIA schools.  For a lot of those schools at that point, Internet broadcasting was not part of their vernacular. That first year, we started with 12 schools and had 17 by the end of that year.  I think by April or May of 2004 we were starting to see more and more interest and I began to realize there was something more to it.

At Fullerton, I developed a way to broadcast our games on-line in house, and that was kind of the brain child for what I did with Stretch. The initial marketing was pretty straightforward – I had a graphic designer friend (Mike Greenlee, who took over for me as the baseball SID at Fullerton) design our logo and our first marketing piece and sent it out  in the CoSIDA Digest, and started getting interest right away.

Question: Who were your first clients?

The first two schools to commit – and I can’t remember which one was first and which one was second – were East Tennessee State and Northwest Missouri State.  East Tennessee State was with us until 2005 or 2006, when they had to leave because of a local arrangement they had, but Northwest Missouri State is still a client.  We still have some of our other charter clients with us as well.  Christopher Newport is one that I remember very well.  At our first CoSIDA convention,  I set up our booth and didn’t know what to expect. Within a few minutes of the show opening, Wayne Block and Francis Tommasino of Christopher Newport walked up, and they just said, ‘We are ready to go,’ and I was blown away.  Of course, they weren’t all that easy.  Sacramento State, University of Pacific, Muskingum, and Southern Illinois are some of the other charter clients that are still with us nine years later, which is very cool to see.

Question: When and how did you come up with the name?

Well I am 6’5, it wasn’t a regular nickname of mine, but people would call me Stretch every now and then.  It actually originated from my interest in baseball.  My buddy, Mike, was starting his own graphic design firm, and we were both baseball fans so we had the idea that it would be cool to have business names with baseball connotations.  His was ‘643 Design’ and I liked ‘Stretch Internet’. It was short and different and kind of catchy.  At least people would remember it – it wasn’t like ‘Streaming Internet Services’ or something bland.

Question: Take me through the early days of Stretch.

It was your classic garage business to start with.  I think I had the only garage in America with 72 phone lines coming into it.  I had industrial racks, each with six of these big all-in-one Apple eMac computers on them. Obviously the technology has completely changed now. My wife always kids me now, but back then she got kind of annoyed because my office was on one side of my house and to get to the garage you had to walk through the kitchen, the family room, and in front of the TV. So on Saturdays I would be working in my office then I would have to go check a broadcast or change the volume or something, so there I was just sprinting back and forth all the way across the house.  I had this worn out path between the office and the garage.

Question: When did you move the company to AZ and why?

We moved in the summer of 2006 mostly because we decided as a family that we were going to pursue Stretch full time. My wife stopped teaching, and we wanted a change of scenery.  Plus I had grown up in Arizona and we liked it out here.

Question: What have been the best parts of growing your own business and what have been the challenges?

I think just watching things grow.  When you are mired in the day-to-day operations, you don’t really appreciate it, but when you step back and look at where we came from – the days of a garage with all these phone lines and me running back and forth – to having a bunch of full time employees and almost 300 schools, it’s pretty neat.  It has been really cool to see that growth.  I also really enjoy developing relationships with other SIDs.  I’m an SID at heart so I enjoy those connections.  From a selfish standpoint, being your own boss is kind of cool.  I guess, technically speaking, I have about 300 bosses if you look at it that way, and obviously the business is always on your mind, but being able to call the shots is rewarding.

When you’re in technology there are a lot of challenges, and a lot of things are out of your control, whether it’s server malfunctions or data center issues or phone lines that don’t work the way they are suppose to.  We have certainly had our fair share of those kind of frustrations, but otherwise I don’t know if I have had any overwhelming moments.  Obviously, we’ve had some growing pains here and there and decisions that we might have executed a little differently in hindsight, but we haven’t had many major challenges or frustrations we haven’t been able to overcome.

Question: What does the future have in store for Stretch Internet?

I am excited.  I think there are a lot of opportunities in education and in other sectors we haven’t even begun to explore. I really think there’s a large market out there for a service that’s truly driven by customer support.  There are hundreds of streaming companies out there, but I don’t know if there are any that focus their model completely around customer support like we do.  Most of them will brag about different features or pricing or whatever it might be – not that we don’t have that as well, but I think our entire core is built around customer support.  It is an easy sell when you are dealing with technology because people want to know that their provider has their back.  Certainly, I think our base will always be athletics, but I think there will be some chances for us to really aggressively market to some other segments.  We have been fortunate and lucky in some ways, because a lot of our marketing is done for us by our clients, and so many of our leads are generated from word of mouth.  We market, but we don’t really have to market hard, so I would like to be a little more aggressive in our pursuit of these other areas.

Juuussttt a bit outside

JUUUUSSTT A BIT OUTSIDE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8YBaerVrLs

Catch phrases are nothing new to sports, but they have certainly evolved from novelty to staple in the world of sports broadcasting, particularly from an entertainment perspective. I chose to write about the history of catch phrases and how they have progressed from some of the early gems (when I say early I mean over the past few decades, I’m only 23) to the witty pop culture references of today. Everything from a classic “Boo-yah” to a more recent, “it’s levitation holmes.”

The interesting part of researching catch phrases was finding that they were used in many different styles of broadcasting. There were in-game catch phrases and ones used for highlight voice-overs. No matter how you use them, they are certainly ingrained into sports broadcasting as we know it.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s the 11 p.m. Sportscenter, hosted by Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, became a staple in sports entertainment. Catch phrases were a focal point of the show and have remained a vital part of the shows success in the modern form. The early gems were abundant – everything from Patrick’s “dare I say, en fuego” to Olbermann’s “from way downtown…BANG!” The phrases took the show to all new heights and the popularity of the program really began to grow, especially among teens and young adults.

SportsCenter produced so many great sportscasters with many memorable catch phrases during that time period. From Stuart Scott to Kenny Mayne to Craig Kilborn, the early 90’s were filled with absolute classics:
“I am the king of all the land…bring me the finest meats and cheeses.” Kenny Mayne
“As cool as the other side of the pillow.” Stuart Scott
“Jeff Gordon would take the checkered flag, but he would have to give it back for the next race.” Kenny Mayne
“That’s his 37th home run, not in one game of course that would be some sort of record.” Kenny Mayne

Play-by-play announcers, like Chicago White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson, had catch phrases that were present in every broadcast for certain situations. Harrelson’s home run call was simple and effective – “You can put it on the booaarrdd, yes.” The legendary Ernie Harwell, who called Detroit Tigers games for 42 seasons, used to use foul ball situations to report that “a man from Walla Walla”or “a lady from Muskegon” had caught the foul ball. He of course was just choosing a local city at random, but things like this endeared Harwell to his listeners and created a sense of connection with the Tigers fan base. He also coined the phrase “he stood there like a house on the side of the road” after a batter would strike out looking.

Notable national broadcasters have a lot more household catch phrases like Marv Albert’s “AND the foul,” or Gus Johnson in his permanently escalated tone saying “rise and fire!” Who doesn’t love a great “Adios, pelota!” from Jon Miller or a good “Are you serious baby?” from the charismatic Dick Vitale.

Of course being a huge college football fan, and a Nebraska die hard, the phrase of “Man, woman, and child, did that put’em in the aisles!” by Lyell Bremser will forever be my favorite.

There are those who make a living from their catch phrases, like Michael Buffer’s “Let’s get readdyy too rummmbllleeeee!” Then there are those who become infamous for theirs:

This notable catch phrase, created and broadcasted (term used loosely) by Brian Collins on a Ball State student news program, has since been referenced in main stream media like SportsCenter, Family Guy, Tosh.0 and he has even appeared on David Letterman and the Early Show.

Essentially anything can be made into a catch phrase, viral Youtube videos, movie quotes, song references, pop culture icons or events… the list goes on and on. The catch phrase has not only evolved, but it has changed the way we view sports broadcasting.

Finally, I wanted to conclude with a little humor. I did a SportsCenter type show at the University of Arizona and loved coming up with catch phrases every week. Blast from the past, hopefully I’m not the next Brian Collins. Fast forward to the 2:25 mark:

I bet some of you have some great catch phrases you use during games, let’s hear some of yours. Post your own witty catch phrases or some of your all time favorites.

Ben there, done that

Although I don’t have an epic story about moving across the country or choosing between being a member of Stretch and a paralegal for a prestigious law firm, I did have an unique path to the gold standard of streaming that is Stretch Internet.

In the early stages of my upbringing I was heavily (and exclusively) involved in three things: playing/ watching unhealthy amounts of sports, acting and performing at local theaters, and impressing girls. I was pretty good at 2 of the 3 (you figure out which two).

So in my attempt to answer the burning question every adolescent is faced with – “What do I want to do with my life?” – I figured I’d try to combine my passions and become a sports broadcaster. I decided to take my talents to Tucson and enrolled at the University of Arizona. While in college, I hosted a sports radio show, did play-by-play for Arizona baseball and football, interned at the local NBC affiliate for three years, and started my own TV show about Arizona Athletics (that was eventually sponsored and shown throughout the campus). By the time graduation rolled around I was riding high. I was ready for the real world and convinced I was going to be co-hosting Sportscenter (and yes I did have a list of about 25 catch phrases ready for any highlight thrown my way).

Needless to say, I wasn’t called by Bristol and after three months of Xbox, I finally had a job offer from FOX Sports Arizona to work as a production assistant. It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, but I thought it could be my way into the business.

The job didn’t pay much so I started looking around for other jobs to make some extra money and to keep my roommates (and by roommates, I mean parents) off my back. A family friend of ours kept talking about a sports broadcasting company owned by one of his best friend. I was immediately intrigued and quickly got in touch with Ryan at Stretch Internet, to see what his broadcasting company was all about. Fortunately for me, he was looking for some part time help and asked if I wanted to meet for an interview.

While the job wouldn’t involve any play-by-play opportunities, I wanted to find out more about this “streaming” business, so I decided to meet with Ryan about the possibility of being a part-time broadcast studio technician.

I received an email from Ryan with the Stretch address and he asked me to be there promptly at 9 a.m. I left my house in plenty of time and entered the address he sent into my GPS.  I wasn’t paying much attention to where exactly it was taking me, but I was following the soothing computerized voice turn by turn.  As soon as the GPS stated, “destination”, I looked up only to see four pieces of wood being held together by rusty nails and an old blue tarp as a roof. This couldn’t be right.

I didn’t know whether to turn around and drive home or somehow knock on the door without collapsing the “building”.  I decided to call Ryan and make sure Stretch wasn’t a coverup for a some sort of black market exchange center. I told him I was at the address he gave me and didn’t see any office centers in sight. He re-read the address to me and it was all correct… except for the fact that I was in Phoenix, not Mesa. Awesome.

Ryan told me he would call me in the next couple days to re-schedule.  Of course, I did not expect a call back from him since he probably thought I was some directionally challenged kid with an 8th grade reading level. But he must have realized I went to U of A (not ASU) because he did call me back. We were able to have our sit-down interview and I have been working with Stretch for the last 8 months as a part time employee.

In July, I was offered a full-time position here and didn’t hesitate to accept it.

Now that you know my story, my name is Ben Gabrielson. I am a graduate of the University of Arizona, but born and raised a die-hard Nebraska football fan. I can quote every Chris Farley movie ever made and watch as much college football as possible.

I look forward to getting acquainted with all of our clients and helping Stretch Internet further it’s success.