Little League Baseball works very, very hard at selling an image of joyful kids having a ball playing baseball. It’s an image that’s cut from the cloth of a Norman Rockwell painting of a simpler time in America.
But lest you forget…Little League Baseball has become big, big business.
Just how big?
In a recent column written by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, he reveals some of these Little League basics:
ESPN will be paying $76 million to Little League Baseball over the next 8 years for the rights to televise their games. That’s a little less than $10 million a year.
In addition, it’s estimated by Yahoo that Little League takes in another $15 million a year from licensing and merchandising deals. In short, with the TV rights, that comes to about $25 mil a year in revenue.
There’s also another $80 million in assets stashed away in corporate bank accounts.
Little League Baseball is considered a not-for-profit charity, and with that, it’s entitled to a lot of corporate tax breaks. But people often mistake that a not-for-profit charity doesn’t pay its employees anything. And Little League makes it a point to remind fans and viewers that all of the people who help out with the games during the playoffs are volunteers who don’t get paid anything. That really doesn’t seem fair. Maybe some years ago when Little League was still just a grassroots operation, that was okay. But not any more. I wonder if the people handling the concession stands know what kind of salary Steve Keener, the CEO of Little League Baseball, pulls down.
Just a few years ago, Keener was earning $230,00o as a salary. That, according to Passan of Yahoo, was pretty much in keeping with other leaders of non-profits. But in October 2012, Keener’s salary jumped to $430,000. That’s a nice raise.
But here’s the biggest question: the ratings boost that ESPN and Little League received from Mo’Ne Davis and her Philly teammates and also the Chicago team this year was substantial.
As we have seen with the NCAA and the Ed O’Bannon case, the pressing question is now – when do the athletes start to cash in on all of this? When a Little League team advances to Williamsport, they routinely get some new bats and other equipment from Little League Baseball, but no money which, ideally, could be used for college tuition down the road. And how many times this August did we hear that some parents of Little Leaguers had to rely upon the generosity of others to help pay their to watch their kid play in Williamsport?
Keener, to his credit, has said that he’s not opposed to compensating the players – after all, it’s the players who drive the ratings for ESPN. But if Little League Baseball wants to do the right thing, then the time has come for them to put aside some real revenue which can be paid to cover tuition if and when each Williamsport Little Leaguer attends college.
Colleague Steve Kallas notes that here in the US, this is already done for young bowlers. That is, as they compete and win in bowling tournaments, if there are any cash prizes to be handed out, the money does not go to the youngster but rather is put aside and paid directly to the child’s college to cover tuition.
Makes sense to me. And now, it’s up to Little League leadership to do the same thing. And by the way, while you’re at it, for once and for all, please get rid of the aluminum bats and stop allowing the kids to throw curves and sliders.