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
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
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
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
League Partner (software)