Monday, August 25, 2008

Little League, Big Money

I love the Little League World Series. In a day and age of high paid, crybaby professional athletes it is refreshing to see the kids playing the game for pure joy and competition. And, it's not just effort I'm seeing. These kids are ballplayers. And due to the size of the diamond, their domination of the playing surface at times even mimics pro ball. On top of all that, the games are over in an hour. It's crisp, clean entertainment that leaves you wanting more.

Give credit to the Disney/ABC/ESPN empire. They saw the TV appeal in Little League and packaged it into a money making machine. There is a long list of high powered sponsors including Kelloggs, Snickers, Bank of America, and Honda to name a few. And, when Erin Andrews is working the crowd you know it's a big time sporting event.

Is there a problem here? ESPN is happy. The kids are happy. Little League is happy. As it turns out, Little League is VERY happy.

According to Scott Wetzel from Yahoo Sports, the non-profit Little League Baseball, Inc. made $3.4 million in profits on $21.4 million in revenue in 2007 and had a reported $70.4 million in cash reserves in September 2006. Can you hear the cash registers ringing?

Should the kids and their families get a slice of the pie? Basketball players at Duke and football players at USC don't see any piece of the millions made by their universities on their athletic abilities. Should Little League be any different? How about the parents who take weeks off of their jobs to follow their kids around the country through districts, regionals, and then to Williamsport? Do you think they deserve compensation for skipping work and in some cases quitting their jobs?

Is it even socially acceptable to be highlighting kids in this way? Is it ethically OK that ESPN is tapping these 12 year olds to pad their pockets? I ask you, how is it any different than American Idol or the Olympics? Maybe Kelly Clarkson was out of her teenage years but many of the Olympic athletes were still feeling growing pains in Beijing (see Chinese gymnastics team).

Lots of questions. For the time being, the current formula seems to be working pretty well. Don't be surprised to see Little League bobblehead dolls in the not so distant future.

Deadspin's take on the LLWS

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