Could Little League World Series Players Be in Line for a Payday?
Steve Keener, the CEO of Little League Baseball, told Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan last week that the idea of paying Little League World Series players could be considered in the future.
"I've always felt we need to be as progressive an organization as we can," Keener told Passan. "We don't know what's coming. If at some point in time that would be deemed to be appropriate, we'll consider it. At the moment, I don't see the necessity and don't think we should be compensating kids right now.
"Whether at some point down the road any funds could be put aside to help them with college I don't know. Down the road that's something we might take a look at even if it's feasible."
According to Josh Peter of USA Today, Little League Inc. had almost $25 million in revenue and more than $85 million in assets back in 2012, according to the latest publicly available tax return. The 100-person full-time staff made nearly $7.5 million in salaries, per Peter, and that's before ESPN agreed to an eight-year, $76 million rights extension for the Little League World Series last summer.
Keener told USA Today that Little League pays for 125 criminal background checks for each local league, provides a training program for coaches, and has lowered its affiliation fees for local leagues in recent years. The organization also pays for travel, lodging, and food costs for the 16 teams that travel to the Little League World Series every year (13 players and three coaches); however, parents' transportation costs are notably not included.
This summer, a group of Major League Baseball players, including Atlanta Braves outfielders B.J. and Justin Upton, contributed $20,000 to help send parents of Chicago's Jackie Robinson West players to the LLWS, according to David O'Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Chicago squad would go on to win the U.S. championship, beating the Las Vegas team in a 7-5 back-and-forth nailbiter on Saturday.
Randy Stevens, president of the Little League in Nashville, Tenn., told USA Today that families of players should receive financial help for travel costs. However, Keener more or less shot that idea down.
"I've learned never to say never, but it's unlikely at this point," he said. "Our responsibility is to provide the travel, the accommodations, and all the expenses related to participating in the World Series for the players and the coaches and the umpires who are here working the World Series."
Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel has been pounding the "Pay the Little Leaguers" drum for years now, noting that the World Series "generates an additional $6.1 million in nonbroadcast revenue, according to tax filings." Heck, a baseball signed by Mo'ne Davis, who became the first Little Leaguer to ever appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated earlier this month, sold for over $500 on eBay last week.
Mo'Ne and the Philadelphia-based Taney Dragons helped drive record ratings to ESPN this summer, too. Her final start against the Las Vegas team in the Little League World Series earned a 3.1 rating, which translates to an average of nearly 5 million viewers, passing the previous LLWS high of 3.3 million set back in 2001.
Given the recent ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken, which prevents the NCAA from disallowing member schools to offer full-cost-of-attendance scholarships and a "limited share of licensing revenue in trust," Keener is wise to be tackling these issues head-on. Though Little League isn't a billion-dollar enterprise like the NCAA, public opinion could sour on the LLWS once the financial details become more common knowledge.
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