"If you build it, they will come," the voices whispered to Ray Kinsella in the movie "Field of Dreams." In Ray's case, after he'd obeyed the voices and built the field, ghosts from baseball's past wandered out of the corn to play under the lights. In your case, things probably won't be quite so otherworldly. But some variation of the same story may nevertheless play out.
For example, perhaps it turns out that the guy who works two cubicles down from you has a great fastball nobody knows about. Or maybe your 40-year-old next door neighbor played college ball and he's been missing the smell of his glove ever since. Or, what if your kid and his friends at school are budding ballplayers -- only they need a league to give them the opportunity to perform?
Maybe it's up to you -- yes, you, "Ray" -- to listen to that inner voice and bring baseball to your community.
The question is, where in the world do you start? We won't lie to you. Starting and operating a league requires a lot of work. In fact, it's not unlike running a business. You'll have to deal with finances, permits, managing people and delegating jobs. And you'll need to check your community laws and regulations to ensure you're going down the right path. In addition, it helps to find a league nearby that you'd like to emulate, and get some advice and tips from people who have already done it.
And most importantly, you'll need some cash flow. Learn more about that on the next page.
Funding a Baseball League
So, you've decided to form a local baseball league. You have group of people interested, enough for a couple of teams, and you've located a couple of practice spaces. The foundation is taken care of, but you still need a lot more -- equipment, uniforms, flyer/poster printing, and possibly merchandise or concessions, depending on how big you want to go with your games.
As with most things in life, you can't do much without money. Keeping your league active and afloat will require cash flow. Some leagues choose to set themselves up as a nonprofit corporation 501(c)(3). The advantage to this is twofold: You can purchase equipment and other items for the league tax-free, and donors may be more willing to give money to the team because donations to a nonprofit are tax deductible. You can file for nonprofit corporation status yourself. Just be sure to do your research. If you have an attorney to go over the paperwork, even better. You can find more information at the IRS Web site.
The first rule of running a local baseball league is this: Don't buy anything that can be donated. Hit up your local sporting goods stores for equipment like bases, bats and balls. Trade product for featured ads in programs or printed on your T-shirts. To catch a break on your T-shirts, ask a local print shop if it would like to sponsor you. Most small businesses jump at the chance to partner with local organizations in the community. Be creative -- hold fundraisers by getting local businesses to donate items and raffle them off. You can think even bigger and try to get corporate sponsorship from a company headquartered in your town. If you use its name for the league, it may be willing to sponsor you.
You can run sponsorship several ways. Setting up various levels of sponsorship is an excellent way to appeal to both large and small companies. Some companies can afford to donate on a regular timetable. Some may only be able to make one-time donations. Give perks accordingly -- bigger donations might net bigger advertisements; smaller donations might merit a free T-shirt.
Calculate a budget of what it takes to run your league on a monthly basis -- field rentals, travel money, first aid supplies, other incidentals -- and charge dues to each player. Another way to keep the money coming in is to look to your team members to find donors. Form fundraising committees and assign each team member a different area of town to canvass.
What else should you consider before starting a league?
Tips for Starting a Baseball League
As with any person running a small business, a league owner's work is never done. Stay organized, form committees, delegate -- and above all, have fun. Also, check with this list of questions to keep your league set-up on the right track.
- Before doing anything, ensure there's not a league in your area already.
- What is the age/skill group of your league? Adults? Kids? Kids with special needs? Choose your sponsors and your practice fields accordingly.
- Do you want your league to join a national association, like Nations Baseball in Texas? Joining a national association opens you up to more opportunities for play, and all of them work by a standard set of rules.
- Decide whether your team needs accident and liability insurance. It's highly advisable, and you may be able to offset the costs via monthly dues.
- How will you choose who goes on each team? Via lottery? How will leadership be assigned?
- Recruit players through friends, work, family or neighbors. If you're still looking, try flyers at the local gym or grocery store. If your town has a Web site, post about it there.
- Set up a board of directors -- it doesn't have to be super-formal, but you need to have some leadership in place in order to make decisions.
- What equipment will be provided by the team, and what equipment will players be responsible for? Often players have their own gloves or bats. However, you'll probably have to invest in things like bases and balls.
- Will you vote on your team colors and design, or assign a committee?
- Will you hold practices and games on the same field? Sometimes you can use a field for free during the week but must rent the space on weekends. Check with your town's parks and recreation department to find out all the available public baseball diamonds in the area.
- Remember to give back to your community, as they support you. Donate regularly to local organizations, or hold charity games for fun.
All of these tips should give you an informed start on your adventure of starting your own league. And just remember, if you build it, they will come.
For more information on sports, check out the links on the next page.
- Adams, Gabriel. "How to Start a Baseball Team in Your Area." Houston-Baseball.com. June 4, 2011. (July 24, 2011)http://houston-baseball.com/baseball/how-to-start-a-baseball-league-in-your-area.htm
- Heaslip, Jennifer. "New Kiwanis baseball league a home run." BlueRidgeNow.com. April 26, 2011. (Jul. 24, 2011)http://www.blueridgenow.com/article/20110426/ARTICLES/104261004
- "Nations Baseball." 2011. (July 24, 2011)http://www.nations-baseball.com/index.cfm?event=general.home
- "Start a League." National Adult Baseball Association. 2010. (July 24, 2010)http://www.dugout.org/default.asp
- "Start a New Team." Bay Area Baseball Association. 2011. (July 24, 2011)http://www.bababaseball.org/startTeam.html