How to Start a Basketball League

A coach speaks to basketball players.
Before your players can hit the court, you'll have lots of details to navigate -- including finding a court.

The invention of basketball is a thing of sports lore: Canadian physician and clergyman James Naismith needed a way to keep the boys in his school active and out of trouble throughout the Massachusetts winter of 1891. He devised a game of tossing a soccer ball into a peach basket.

Your reasons for starting a basketball league might be that simple: something fun and healthy to do, for adults in your community, say, or for youth at area churches. Or you might have higher ambitions, like grooming serious high school players for college or raising money for charities.


Whatever your motives, first make sure there will be enough interest to support the venture. Spread the word by posting an invitation on a social media site. Send a press release to regional papers. Get an interview on a local TV news show. Organize an informal shoot-around to gauge the local community's enthusiasm and talent level. It's also a good idea to get solid advice about the legal and financial commitment involved, since both can be substantial.

Your goals and the response to your inquiries will help you make the many decisions that starting a league entails. For example, what kind of legal entity will the league be? What office and on-court personnel will you need? Where will you play? What rules will you use? Will you charge admission? Sell merchandise?

The scope of your league will also give you an idea of what it will cost to run it. Even if you plan a nonprofit organization that relies on donations and is staffed by volunteers, you'll still have expenses for insurance, paperwork, transportation, equipment, supplies and more.

Managing a league is a lot of responsibility. But if you're up for the game, it's a chance to make a positive contribution to your community -- physically, socially and economically. Look at what James Naismith started with one ball and a couple of peach baskets. On the next page, we'll explore some of the main challenges you'll face and some options for meeting them.


Tips for Starting a Basketball League

Two young girls play basketball.
For a successful league, use social media to get local kids, competitors and everyone in between excited about playing.
Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

Your first call before starting a league should be to a trusted tax or legal advisor. If the league qualifies as a nonprofit, you'll be exempt from paying taxes. If you intend to make money, you must register as a business and be taxed as such. However, forming a business protects your personal assets if you're sued for debts or damages.

Speaking of protection, insurance is essential. Basic plans cover property theft and embezzlement, plus accident, injury or discrimination involving athletes and spectators. Some insurance agencies specialize in such policies. The Amateur Athletic Union offers them, too. You should also have players sign waivers releasing you from liability in some situations -- accidentally breaking a spectator's rib while performing the Heimlich maneuver, for example.


Next, identify the key personnel that your organization will need. Besides a secretary, treasurer and other basic staff, you might need directors of ticket sales, promotions, recruiting, merchandising and equipment. A management software package or Internet-based management service can simplify administrative tasks, from generating mailing lists to performing background checks.

Choose the set of rules that best meet your league's purpose and players' abilities. For example, who is eligible to play? How long will games be? What types of team names are permitted? A local school coach can offer guidance (and possibly a rulebook). You should also establish by-laws to address off-court procedural issues like filing a complaint against a referee. Make both sets of regulations readily available to all involved parties.

The final piece of the picture is money. Team or player fees usually provide the bulk of funding for basketball leagues. What you charge -- and whether you offer anything besides the chance to play, such as a jersey -- should reflect the nature of the league. A city youth league with a six-game season might charge one-tenth the fees of a tri-state league of aspiring pros with a 30-game schedule. You or your players might be qualified to apply for a sports or fitness grant to help cover costs.

Sponsorships can be another lucrative source of income. Choose sponsors that promote the image you want for your league. A company might pay to have its logo on a program or its name mentioned during a time-out. Sporting goods makers might provide equipment at a discount in exchange for being named the league's "official" supplier.

And that's just an overview of things to consider. For more information, check out the sources listed on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • "Pros and Cons of Forming a Corporation." June 30, 2011 (July 26, 2011)
  • Amateur Athletic Union. "AAU Insurance Program Summary." (Aug. 2, 2011)
  • AVCSS Sports Club, LLC. "Starting Your Own League -- The Basics." (July 23, 2011)
  • FIBA. "Basketball Rules." (Aug. 2, 2011)
  • Internal Revenue Service. "Social Clubs." April 8, 2010 (July 22, 2011),,id=96189,00.html
  • Kansas Heritage Group. "History of Basketball: Dr. James Naismith, Inventor of Basketball." Jan. 5, 2005 (July 25, 2011)
  • National Alliance for Youth Sports. "Volunteer League Administrators. (Aug. 2, 2011)
  • Pennsylvania Recreation & Park Society, Inc. "Youth Sports Grants." (Aug. 2, 2011)
  • Sadler Sports & Recreation Insurance. "Amateur Sports Insurance FAQ." (July 26, 2011)
  • Sports Connection. "Liability Waivers and Team Rosters." (Aug. 2, 2011)
  • The Business of Sports. "Sample Sponsorship Proposal -- Client First!" (Aug. 2, 2011)