Varsity Spirit idles workers as COVID-19 threatens business

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 01, 2020 3:09 PM CT | Published: April 01, 2020 2:11 PM CT

Varsity Spirit, a provider of uniforms, camps and competitions for hundreds of thousands of cheerleaders and dancers, has made staff cuts because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Employees, who had been mostly working from home because of the coronavirus, were notified Tuesday they were being furloughed, or temporarily laid off, and that in some cases positions were being eliminated.

The company reported employing about 5,000 people nationally and 350 in the Memphis area in 2018. It was unclear how many employees were affected or whether the downturn in Varsity Spirit’s fortunes would affect plans to move its headquarters to the Snuff District in Downtown Memphis.

Varsity Spirit last fall was announced as the anchor tenant of developer Billy Orgel’s mixed-use Snuff District, where the company planned to lease 80,000 square feet.

“Yesterday was the most challenging day in Varsity Spirit’s 45-year history, as we made the incredibly difficult decision to reduce our workforce and furlough employees in response to the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Varsity Spirit president Bill Seely said via email on Wednesday, April 1.

Snuff District lands agreement for Varsity Spirit headquarters

“With more than 100 events canceled or delayed, the majority of our manufacturing plants shut down and uncertainty headed into the summer, we simply had no choice,” Seely said.

“We are offering severance and related benefits to our impacted colleagues, and will do all we can to ensure they are taken care of even as we resolve to persevere and position Varsity Spirit to resume normal operations when the time is right,” Seely said.

The cuts were believed to be extended to Varsity employees who work in the field managing camps or uniform business.

It was unclear how many employees were permanently let go and given severance packages, compared to the number who were indefinitely furloughed without pay, until such time as business bounces back.

The job actions help the company slash payroll at a time when it faces revenue losses from uniform sales and summer camps, because of social distancing requirements and lack of consumer purchasing power in the wake of layoffs.

Varsity Spirit and two sister companies’ sales are heavily dependent on the kinds of activities that are now suspended or on hold because of coronavirus, including schools and mass events such as summer cheerleading and dance camps. 

Varsity Spirit sells cheerleading uniforms and hosts camps, clinics and competitions. Varsity Brands also includes Herff Jones, which sells graduation and educational products and services; and BSN Sports, which distributes team sports apparel and equipment.

Varsity Spirit expands band division with pair of acquisitions

Varsity Spirit is a unit of Varsity Brands, owned by Bain Capital, the Boston-based private investment firm co-founded by Mitt Romney, Utah senator and former presidential candidate and Massachusetts governor.

Bain Capital has about $105 billion in assets under management.

Bain Capital bought Varsity Brands in 2014 from Charlesbank Capital Partners. Bain Capital didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Varsity Spirit’s summer cheerleading and dance camps served about 330,000 people in 50 states last summer, utilizing a network of more than 25,000 coaches.

Varsity Spirit’s Universal Cheerleaders Association and Universal Dance Association produced the National High School Cheerleading Championship and National Dance Team Championship at Walt Disney World in February, attracting 25,000 high school cheerleaders and dancers.

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