LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The i9 Sports company, which offers programs for hundreds of Manatee County youths, will have more room to play thanks to its move to the Premier Sports Campus.
The company announced Tuesday it will move its East Manatee franchise from Dan Nolan Middle School to the sprawling, 22-field athletic campus on State Road 70 East beginning with i9's winter season starting Jan. 11.
"We're excited about the growth of our program, which prompted us to look into some larger digs," said Edwin Robinson, i9 business development manager in Manatee County.
More than 1,500 youngsters participated this year in five sports -- flag football, soccer, basketball, tee-ball and cheerleading -- at Nolan Middle, which has hosted Larry and Angie Jackson's Manatee i9 Sports franchise since it was established in 2006.
Players in all those sports, with the exception of basketball, will now have access to up to four professionally maintained fields with Celebration-seeded grass and an irrigation system at Premier Sports Campus, said Antonio Saviano, PSC director of sports.
Robinson envisions the company needing as many as eight fields in the future as registration grows.
"This gives us breathing room for growth," Robinson said.
The Jacksons say the move will give i9 increased visibility and an improved level of competition.
"We are very excited about this new partnership with the Premier Sports Campus," Larry Jackson said in a news release. "This change of venue increases our ability to touch the hearts and minds of more young people here in Manatee County through a fun, safe and convenient sports program."
The addition of i9 also increases Premier Sports' local visibility. The campus has hosted tournaments, camps and sports leagues from all over the country since it opened in 2011. This week it is hosting the U.S. Under-17 Men's National soccer team as it competes in the 2013 Nike International Friendlies against Portugal, England and Brazil.
"Even though Premier Sports Campus is a private facility, we always wanted to make it available to our community," Saviano said.
Neither party went into detail about the agreement, but Premier Sports Campus officials said it's not unlike other deals with private leagues, such as one with the Chargers Soccer Club youth programs.
Robinson said i9 Sports hopes to resume its youth programs at Buffalo Creek Park in Palmetto in the fall, but for now those programs will be offered at Premier Sports Campus. The Palmetto programs suffered from low turnout, Robinson said, but the franchise is "doubling up on our marketing effort and advertising efforts" there.
In addition to their Manatee operations, the Jacksons acquired a neighboring i9 Sports franchise in Sarasota, stretching their territory from northern Manatee County to Punta Gorda.
The franchise will continue to headquarter in an office park on Palm Brush Trail at Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and State Road 70.
Tampa-based i9 Sports boasts a half-million members in 275 communities around the country. Each location is independently owned and operated and offers programs for ages 3-14.
Jason Bartolone, East Manatee Editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JasonBartolone.