At Little League® International in Williamsport, Pa., and at our Regional Offices, calls and emails come in all year long about different situations that are happening at some of our 7,000 local leagues. Many of these calls and emails inform us of some very positive initiatives spearheaded by our millions of volunteers. However, there are also negative situations.
“Don’t Let This Happen to Your League” details a real-world scenario, how it has impacted a league, and how you might learn from it.
The names have been omitted in the following scenario, but the situation is real.
The Situation: A local league decided to build a field for the Little League Intermediate (50/70) Baseball Division to begin offering new opportunities for its 11- to-13 year-old baseball players. The building cost to the league was $100,000, and after securing a loan through a local bank, construction began in the fall so that the field would be ready for play the following spring. In order to raise the necessary funds to complete the project and pay off the loan, the local league hosted district tournament games, with all of the concession stand proceeds going to offset the cost; organized a capital fund that requested funds from local league sponsors; and also generated revenue from a silent auction and home run derby-style fundraising events. The remaining balance was to be covered by the player participation fee collected during registration for the coming season.
However, after the fundraising events concluded, the local league did not continue to promote the new division, and did not communicate about the league’s activities leading up to registration or the new opportunities for parents, guardians, and players to take advantage of the upcoming season. When it came time to register players for the coming season, the overall participation numbers were less than previous years, as was the in-take of registration dollars. Also, to the league’s surprise, the number of children who signed up to play in the new division was less than projected based off of previous enrollment at the Major Division level. After tabulating the amount raised from registration and adding it to previous fundraising efforts, the league was still $18,000 short of its fundraising benchmark needed to pay off the loan.
The Outcome: Reeling from the unexpectedly low player turnout, and the community’s perceived lack of excitement and interest about the new field and division, the local league’s financial oversite required that it pay a penalty to the lending agency for making only partial payments on the loan.
Over the next few weeks, members of the Little League Board of Directors decided to move forward with Intermediate (50/70) Baseball division by inviting players from the Major Division to dual roster (play on two regular-season teams at the same time). The league was able to form two teams, and established and interleague agreement with two neighboring leagues so that a 12-game schedule could be created.
In order to generate the amount of money needed to pay off the loan, the league voted to host a series of “special games” tournaments on each Sunday during the regular season, with all money raised earmarked for loan reimbursement.
Despite is best efforts and intentions, it took the league considerable time to rebound from the debt incurred from loan shortfall. In turn, the league was unable to afford entering any divisions other than Major Baseball into tournament play. During this same time, the damage to the league’s reputation continued to hurt player enrollment, players chose other youth sports options because of lack of tournament play, and the volunteer base suffered due to the perceived mismanagement of league finances.
The Solution: The league realized that much of this strife could have been avoided if it had developed and executed a proactive marketing and communications plan. By creating an impactful promotion and education campaign that would have promoted the new field, the new division, and highlighted the general benefits of the league. That exposure would have likely created broader interest, rallied emotional and financial support, and produced the result that the league had intended, which was a great opportunity for more children to have fun playing Little League. Working with their District Administrator and Regional Office, the league has implemented some new, mostly free marketing and communications campaigns with hopes of turning around its numbers.
The results of promoting registration directly impacts a local league. Little League has created a vast assortment of marketing and communications resources that are designed to help promote registration and increase participation, and packaged them in the annual Local League Resource Guide and on the Little League University website.
Regardless of what information your league wants to get out to the membership, and the community at-large, it is imperative that your Board of Directors develops a communications and marketing plan that engages each group. Establishing a committee to oversee, execute, and manage the plan will help to ensure that the information you want to share, reaches the proper people and organizations. Word-of-mouth is a great tool, but in today’s world of information saturation, over-communicating is the new standard to make sure that all messaging is clearly and accurately received.