Amateur Sports Leagues

Experts in Their Field

Amateur Sports Leagues

 

By Michele Brunet


 

Rob Smith and Michael Mazzolla have a lot in common. Both have created leagues to promote the sports they love and play. They both have separate "day jobs," but this does not mean they only spend a handful of hours a week managing their leagues. Additionally Smith and Mazzolla are each motivated by player satisfaction, rather than profits.

Smith started the Orange County Adult Soccer League (OCASL) in North Carolina a year ago. The non-profit organization specializes in recreational soccer, offers four seasons a year and consists of 12 teams. As a long time soccer player, referee and former coach, Smith was inspired to start the league because he knew fellow players were dissatisfied with other leagues in the area. "Other leagues tend not to focus much on the player," says Smith. "If you ask a player, they want good fields, good referees and decent soccer balls. So we focused really on what the player wanted."

Being involved in the local soccer scene for so long, and knowing fellow referees as well as the area’s Parks and Recreation people, Smith realized that all the pieces were fitting together for him to start the OCASL. He began driving around looking for quality fields, creating an online presence and looking into the costs of things like commercial liability insurance, quality soccer balls, pop-up nets, uniforms, prizes and field rentals.

"Like any business, planning is important, so you set the player fees based on your costs," says Smith. "We charge $75 per player, which is less than most of the other leagues around because most of them are really trying to make a profit, or they may have additional costs that I don’t have (like I don’t have to rent a building to house my offices in)."

Smith is supported by each of the teams’ captains and a Board of Advisors (that all play in the OCASL with him) but still his role can be quite busy, especially at the beginning of the season when he’s registering teams, organizing the schedule and ordering uniforms. Overall he says running the soccer league is a part-time gig.

"I’m a computer programmer by training and I wrote the software that I use to manage the league and that saves me a ton of time," says Smith. (The software he is referring to is called League Partner, an inexpensive program adaptable to any sport that helps organize schedules, budgets and other league-related activities).

Excess revenue from player fees or sponsorships (something Smith wants to build upon) goes towards players who may not be able to pay the registration fee and other philanthropy. For example, the proceeds generated from a tournament held in February went to two charities: Help to Impact Lives and the Community Empowerment Fund.

 

The recent launch of the New Jersey Amateur Baseball League (NJABL) (founded by Mazzolla and Timothy Ritchie) also had charity in mind. On April 7 , the first pitch will be thrown at Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium, where proceeds generated from ticket sales went to Hometown Heroes’ Restore the Shore project.

Mazzolla has been playing baseball since he was three-years-old swinging a big, red Wiffle Ball bat. He played varsity in high school, pitched at Rutgers University-Newark and in 2000, began playing in amateur leagues. Mazzolla and Ritchie met about five years ago while playing on the same team. They began to notice that league fees were going up, but quality was going down. This got them thinking they should start their own league.

"We really thought that creating a league by players we would be able to take all the things that were bad and correct them," says Mazzolla. "We’re trying to reinvent the amateur adult baseball league in Jersey. We want to present something much more desirable and rewarding, and that upgrades everyone’s experience within a league, and also one where the league is not looked upon as a profit machine." In fact the partners are in the process of trying to register the NJABL as an official non-profit.

Even before the league started, they had 50 teams registered, secured a partnership with the Can-Am pro team the Newark Bears (which could open up some scouting opportunities for NJABL players) and formed a relationship with a New Jersey baseball equipment company (which is offering discount prices to NJABL members).

Mazzolla credits these successes to their website, which they created once they knew that some teams were interested. "I think that upfront, once you’re committed to doing it, you have to invest in yourself," he says. "I think the most important thing that we did was that we believed in our model and we invested in our website."

They developed a model so that team fees would cover their operating costs, such as umpires, stadiums, baseballs and team insurance. Mazzolla says they’ve also added a safety net into their budget in case additional unforeseen expenses arise.

Mazzolla says the best advice he has for those thinking about starting a league is having an affinity for the sport. "I think you really have to have a love, respect and passion for the sport," he says. "If you have that, I think with any business, you should know what the right thing to do is starting from the ground floor."

Smith concurs, adding that it’s also been the diversity of his league’s players (representing a variety of ages, skill levels and ethnicities, both male and female) that he’s enjoyed. "There are 250 players in the league right now and I feel like a lot of them are friends of mine," says Smith. "That was kind of serendipitous. It was an extra little bonus that I didn’t expect."

 


LINKS:  |   OCASL website  |     NJABL Website   |     League Partner (software)

 

 

Story appears in

HobbyFirm Magazine

Volume 1., Issue 2

 

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