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In the past two weeks, Davis has appeared on live TV pitching in the LL World Series in Williamsport, PA, graced the cover of Sports Illustrated (yes, the cover jinx is alive and well as Davis’ team was eliminated by Nevada), was interviewed by ESPN’s Karl Ravech, made the rounds of the morning talk shows and the evening news, and watched her autograph value soar into the hundreds-of-dollars per item. Whether all that exposure is healthy for a 13-year-old is debatable.
What isn’t debatable is how capitalizing on the youthful exuberance and innocence of kids has made the folks at Little League, Inc. extremely wealthy. Even before Davis burst onto the scene, the non-profit organization was doing its best NCAA impersonation. For 2012, the last year for which information is available to the public, Little League Inc. reported revenue of almost $25 million and assets of more than $85 million according to a report in USA Today. And those who run the non-profit organization were among the biggest beneficiaries of all that black ink.
Little League CEO Steve Keener reportedly earned a salary of $430,000 in 2012, nearly double what he earned five years earlier. He wasn’t the only employee of the organization whose income far exceeded the national average. The 100-person full-time staff collectively made almost $7.5 million in salary, with some senior staffers earning between $100,000 and $250,000 each. Great work, if you can get it, and not that difficult to do when ESPN is shelling out $76 million over eight years to televise the two-week annual tournament.
Keener tried to defend the wealth amassed by his organization when responding to an inquiry from USA Today Sport about where the money went. He said the majority of the organization’s costs are related to the maintenance of the group’s national headquarters in Williamsport, five regional centers — in Connecticut, Georgia, Texas, California and Indiana — a full-time facility in Poland and offices in Hong Kong, Puerto Rico and Canada. At least the largesse is being spread around the globe and not just limited to one country.
Not surprisingly, Keener was defensive when asked about his own salary, declining to comment beyond saying that his compensation is set by a committee of Little League Inc. board members.
Little League, Inc.’s financial health might not raise any eyebrows until you consider that most of its good fortune is attributable to its volunteers, 1,250,000 of them in 7,500 communities according to Keener. Sound familiar? But at least the NCAA offers a free education, half-hearted though it may be in some instances, to its version of free labor. When asked about the possibility of providing scholarships for Little League participants, Keener said using the money for scholarships is not under consideration and “it’s just not something we feel is necessary for us to be thinking about.”
To be fair, Keener said that after his organization signed its latest contract with ESPN, it lowered affiliation fees for local leagues. It also pays for 125 criminal background checks for each local league, provides training programs for coaches, and pays the entire cost of travel, lodging and food for the 16 World Series teams, each consisting of 13 players and three coaches, in addition to paying the cost of umpires.
Furthermore, the organization makes the World Series games affordable by not charging an admission fee, although cans are passed around the 40,000 seat stadium and fans are encouraged to make a donation.
Mo’ne isn’t quite the financial juggernaut that Little League, Inc. is, but she could challenge Keener’s income if she was so inclined. Marketing experts disagree on how much Davis could earn if she wanted to capitalize on her new-found fame. But Brandon Steiner, owner of the nation’s premier sports memorabilia company Steiner Sports, estimated that Mo’ne could easily make $100,000 on an autograph deal. Product endorsements could up that figure substantially.
Davis has her sights set on a basketball scholarship to UConn and unfortunately, any merchandise or product endorsement deal could jeopardize her collegiate eligibility. Neither Keener nor Little League, Inc. has similar concerns. They can continue amassing obscene amounts of money on the backs of the Mo’ne Davises with impunity.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com Jordan can be reached at email@example.com.
© Copyright 2014 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed