"It’s all about the money"

As a co-founder of the Gamers baseball program, I get offended when I hear people say, or post comments saying, that youth baseball programs are “all about the money”.

I understand the premise.  Baseball was once a low cost sport.  It no longer is.  When you start adding more games, more exposure events, more coaching, more practice and more travel to the equation, it becomes an expensive sport.  So, a sport that used to cost $800 per year to play now costs $2000-$3000.

But, that is NOT “all about the money”  It is about what you GET for the money.

I am pretty qualified to understand the budgets and economics of youth baseball.  We started the Gamers program with this challenge => how much baseball development could we squeeze into $2000-$3000 per year per player.  That was the going cost in other programs that we benchmarked and other sports like hockey and soccer.

We have managed to squeeze a lot of baseball into the budget.  It includes:

– A maxed out schedule of games/tournaments
– An intensive winter training program
– Lots of indoor facility practice time during peak hours
– Lots of outdoor practice time
– Professional coaching — the best in the area
– Top tier instructors, that work directly with the players during winter AND summer
– Series of seminars, clinics, instructional materials, etc…

Our program makes no money.  We are a non-profit.  We have no shareholders that collect profits.  I am the Managing Director, and take ZERO compensation for administering the program or coaching.  All of the money is spent on playing or practicing baseball.  We collect money from parents, and then directly spend it on all the things above.

I have a basic principle … no one in a youth baseball team program should make a dime from a kid unless they are directly interacting with him.

So, with the Gamers it’s about what you GET for the money! 

Unfortunately, the above is not true for many other programs.

There are some folks in the baseball community that are A LOT more focused on making money than developing players.  I am not talking about the people who actually coach, teach, instruct or work with directly kids.  I am talking about the people who skim money off the top without directly adding value to individual players.

They are behind the scenes, treating baseball like a monopoly game or fantasy baseball and creating a dark cloud over youth baseball.  They would rather recruit players than develop players and sell snake oil to parents by telling them what they want to hear.

Unfortunately, in too many of these cases, it IS about the money.

Here are some warning signs to look for to determine whether or not money from a baseball program is being skimmed into someone’s pocket instead of being spent on baseball:

  • Does every person getting paid have active involvement with every player and/or team in the program?  If not, what are they doing instead?
  • Fewer tournaments/games, with schedules that come out late and constantly shift.
    • 11-14u, we play 12-13 tournaments in April-July.  Schedule is done by Feb.
    • For HS, we play EVERY weekend from Memorial Day to August (8-10).  Schedule is done by December.
    • At high school ages, we practice/play 1-2 weeks longer each summer than other programs.
  • Team rosters that are large and regularly shift around.
    • Our roster sizes are capped at age of players, 15u teams have 15 players, 16u teams have 16 players, etc… and rosters rarely change during the season
  • Non-peak times for indoor training
    • Gamers teams train at peak times on Saturdays and on weeknights during the busy indoor training season.  And, we practice at the top baseball facility in the region.
  • Baseball training requirements that are “in addition to” the program fees — like extra winter hitting or pitching programs that you are required to do, but costs an additional $800.  
    • All required baseball training in the Gamers is included in the program fees. You can do other stuff, like private lessons, etc.. but it is optional
  • Low quality, inconsistent or “outsourced” instruction.
    • Gamers baseball instruction for every kid (11-18u) is provided by Matt Whiteside, Scott Cooper, Dave Pregon, Nick Beckmann, Justin Rosen and Kevin Wheeler.  Every kid.  Nothing is outsourced to temporary instructors.
  • Making money on uniform sales
    • We get a small rebate from J Mac’s that is plowed directly back as a credit for uniform purchases the following year.  No money from jersey or uniform sales is skimmed off the top.  No special patches or emblems.
  • Skimping on coaching expenses by using fewer paid coaches  (1 per team instead of 2) and more Dad coaches at HS ages
    • We have 2 professional, paid coaches at each HS age team.  This costs A LOT.  But our players deserve it.  We have no unpaid dad coaches at HS levels. 
    • About 1/2 of our younger teams are also professionally coached
  • Playing in high school age tournaments that are run by affiliated companies or where the program  gets a kickback or commission.
    • We run 2-3 Gamers tournaments per year.  Cost is $675 for 5 games, ALL games on the D1 college fields. We make no money running these tournaments.
    • Other HS age tournaments cost $850-$1500 per event.  The difference is profit to the tournament operator.  Most independent tournament operators do a great job and work hard to earn every penny of this.
    • If program teams only play in affiliated tournaments, this is a red flag.
  • Making money on player/parent travel expenses.  This is done by not allowing players and parents to share rooms and/or  increasing nightly rates at low-end hotels to cover a booking commission that it provided back to the program, i.e. you pay $95 for a $85 hotel room, with $10 going back to the baseball program as a commission.
    • Note: Gamers program does not do either.  We stay at name brand hotels as required by our tournament operators, do not mark-up rates.  We do not make a dime from travel expenses.
My advice to parents …. Don’t fall prey to snake oil salesmen.

Ask what you are getting for your money and where the money actually goes.  If a program director cannot or will not answer the questions honestly, don’t get sucked into to empty promises.

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