Tips for Leagues Who Maintain Their Own Facilities

by Paul Zwaska, technical sales manager

Over the past 10 years I’ve been helping a local little league in southern Wisconsin with improve their facilities. In doing so, we have greatly strengthened the health of the league. Much of what we have done are things that can easily be replicated by any organization. But it all comes down to having a board of directors interested in making the league — and its facility — the best it can be. It requires people with good organizational skills, good operational skills, and at least one person who is a dreamer. Someone to lookout into the future and imagine what is possible for an organization to achieve.

It starts with good leadership. Too often, leagues are run by boards that are pretty transient. Board members come and go frequently as their kids become involved but then grow out of the league. Many times, some of these members are only serving on the board for their own personal reasons, i.e. their own child. But a board must serve the common good for the entire league. What I have found to be most successful is having the majority of the board made up of people who no longer have kids in the program. They provide stability in the organization as they serve more for the community than for their own child. They tend to stay involved for longer periods of time making it easier to stay on course with long term planning. It is OK to have a percentage of that board made up of current parents of players but, if possible, I would recommend trying to keep that level at 50% or less.

Get the organization itself, organized. A league must be run like a business. And a good business knows where its money is coming from and where it is going to. If your league doesn’t have a budget yet, then it is time to get busy and make one. Without a budget, it is pretty hard to plan for future upgrades to the league and its facility. The more detailed the budget, the easier it is to plan for the future. Our league was not operating under a budget when I joined them. Now we have full control of our costs and can clearly plan our expenses. A couple of budget lines we find useful are emergency funds and facility upgrades. We can put defined revenue into the proper budget category thereby helping it to become reality.

Have a long range plan. A long range plan sets the tone for the organization. It creates targets to which the organization can aim for. As you achieve each target, it gives the organization a sense of accomplishment. It proves to the membership that the organization is moving forward. And as you achieve each target, that project is crossed off the list and you begin to set your sights for the next target. The long range plan should be a 3 to 5 year living document that is revisited once a year to insure that the priorities are in proper alignment. These targets can be moved as priorities or needs change. This is a crucial steering document for an organization. No more flying from the seat of your pants.

Healthy revenue streams are a must. When I first enlisted my son into the Little League I would later get involved with, I was shocked at how cheap it was. They were charging a low price for the opportunity for kids to play but in exchange, they allowed the fields and facility to fall into some disrepair. Here’s a news flash….. Parents want to send their kids to nice facilities and they are willing to pay what is reasonable. As long as parents see that your organization is putting money back into the facility and it is improving, you will rarely ever get complaints about increasing registration costs as long as they are within reason. Registration revenue now accounts for almost 50% of total revenue for the organization. Because of our detailed budgeting, we are able to use scholarships to pay for families who can’t afford the registration fee. No child who is interested in playing in our league is ever turned away. In fact, we provide between 70 to 100 full and partial scholarships a year at our facility.

Concessions sales count for 26% of total revenue. Just like in professional ballparks, concessions are a key part of fundraising. A captive audience gets hungry and thirsty. It’s an easy sell, and a good concessions manager can optimize your sales with timely specials, reasonable profit margins and a good variety of quality food during the long season. Concessions can keep things fresh with new ideas and opportunities available for increasing revenues.
Fundraising accounts for 22% of our revenue stream. We use several smaller fundraising events throughout the year to which, when their revenues are added together at the end, they amount to a sizable revenue stream. Most of this money is budgeted towards standard operational expenses. For larger projects requiring greater funding, a separate plan needs to be drafted spelling out the scope of the project, what it will cost, and how the funding will be raised. Be prepared to have at least 50% of those you approach for donations, say no. Don’t take that personally, the project just didn’t fit their interests. When you do get larger donations, celebrate the victory and use that feeling to channel your energy forward until your goal is reached. Use a four pronged attack to raising the money by approaching charitable foundations, local businesses, league alumni and current membership.

Back in 2002, 815 Kids were playing in the program. The organization was working with yearly revenue of just under $150,000 back then. Ten years later, 1,708 kids were able to enjoy our little league program at our facility last year, and our gross revenue for the organization in 2012 was $480,000. Over the past 10 years, well over $600,000 in facility upgrades have occurred and we are currently in a capital campaign to raise 2 million dollars for some larger facility projects.

I remember well the day back in 2002 when our Little League board scoffed after I presented my first 10-page long-range plan to increase our revenues and improve the facility. They didn’t believe it could be done. Sometimes, it just takes a dreamer. That famous line from a baseball movie is true, “If you build it, they will come”.

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