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08-24-2006, 05:29 PM
Let them pay

By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports
August 23, 2006

Dakota Fanning is 12 years old.

She is an actress who has appeared in dozens of commercials, network television shows and major motion pictures. Some estimates have her commanding a salary of over $5 million per film, which are then released and, generally, earn the adults around her tens of millions more.

No one thinks that since just about any 12-year-old would be thrilled to appear in a Hollywood film for free, that Dakota Fanning should, indeed, work for free.

Now, imagine if Dakota Fanning was a softball player and not an actress.

She would be eligible to compete in the Little League Softball World Series, which would allow her to appear on national television, be used to promote corporate sponsors and advertisers and make the adults around her tens of millions of dollars.


Justin Timberlake
K-Fed Jessica Simpson

Only she wouldn?t get a red cent.

The reason is because, ah, well, it is because people figure that since just about any 12-year-old would be thrilled to play softball (or baseball) on national television for free, then free it should be. Just ignore those tens of millions.

In fact, to suggest otherwise, to suggest that Little Leaguers should get in on the money (even just a little), is so counter to supposed American values that people get outraged or dumbfounded, then even more outraged.

But, then again, even Nike and Kathie Lee pay their child workers at least a few cents an hour.


Little League is a Big League business and gets bigger each and every year, thanks to the increased national television coverage from ESPN and ABC, which has driven up not just rights fees but corporate sponsorships, stadium advertising and ancillary income.

Little League Baseball, Inc., a non-profit based in Williamsport, Pa., took in revenues of $19.2 million in 2005 according to the IRS, an increase of 26.4 percent from just four years prior.

LLB, Inc. spent $17.4 million last year and has over $62.6 million in cash reserves. CEO Stephen Keener drew over $225,000 last year in salary and retirement contributions according to tax records.

ESPN and ABC can?t get enough of the Little League, televising all 32 games of the baseball World Series, more than a dozen regional qualifying tournament games and three softball World Series games. What began in 1953 as a single televised championship game now dominates the networks? August schedule.

The Little League World Series is so big business that its championship game will go by the name ?Little League World Series: World Championship presented by Kellogg?s Frosted Flakes.?

Kellogg?s outbid all the other major corporate sponsors such as Bank of America, ReMax Real Estate, Ace Hardware and Snickers, to name a few, for the title game naming rights.

Business aside, some people think turning a child?s game into an international pressure cooker is dangerous ? with kids getting hurt, adults cheating and priorities being put out of whack. Others think the critics should chill out and realize this provides the thrill of a lifetime for a bunch of kids from around the globe.

?Better than any other youth sport activity, baseball and softball have become the thread that has sewn together a patchwork of nations and cultures around the world,? the Little League declares.

There is truth in both arguments. But the Little League, which was founded in 1939 and staged its first ?World Series? in 1947, was easier to believe when it wasn?t selling everything out to the highest bidder.

It is now mostly about the business of selling entertainment. It can talk all it wants about its commitment to sportsmanship and service, but please, even the most na?ve romantic can?t still believe those are anything but nice by-products.

This is why the kids playing the game that fuels this business deserve something.

Here is the thing, each Little League team has 15 active players. Each game features 30 total players. There are 45 national television games for the boys.

If each player was paid just $750 for each television game it would cost the Little Legaue $1,012,500, a little more than half of the anticpated profits for the year. That is nothing for the Little League.

Since each team appears in a minimum of three television games, that is $2,250 per player, an absolute life changer for some kid from China or Mexico (let alone blue collar America).

Now imagine if Disney (ESPN and ABC) matched it.

Or maybe the money could be put into college savings accounts, or bonds that can?t be redeemed until the children are 18.

Whatever, just about anything would be, at the very least, a good faith gesture and an admission to modern reality.

Anyone who knows anything about youth sports these days knows that it is a multi-billion dollar business, complete with endless travel, sky-high fees, personal skill coaches and tournament operators who are adept at squeezing every last penny.

Parents are getting killed on this stuff. The days of the old city sand lot leagues are gone, gobbled up by entrepreneurs who have sold the supposedly better mouse trap.

Yet American society still wants to hold onto some pristine image of youth sports and apply a different standard than other forms of entertainment or business, no matter how illogical

LeBron James could have been a multi-millionaire and top five NBA draft pick after his sophomore year of high school, but he had to wait. But no one waxes on about how Dakota Fanning is missing out on the experience of the humble junior high play.

You may think this is just Little League baseball, but that isn?t how the corporations see it.

The Little League game that appears on ESPN and ABC is no different than a Red Sox-Yankees contest, or ?Grey?s Anatomy? or SportsCenter. It is a show designed to sell enough advertising to turn a profit. That?s it. That?s all. If it wasn?t making money, it wouldn?t be on the air.

If Kellogg?s (or any other company) didn?t think the Little League would help the bottom line, it wouldn?t buy in either. No one is in this for their health.

Essentially a lot of multinationals are exchanging a lot of money in the entertainment industry, yet the people providing the entertainment aren?t seeing any of it.

So the 12-year-old baseball player gets an orange slice and a motel room in Pennsylvania. The suit in the corner office gets set for life.


You can argue about the sanctity of ?amateur athletics? but in today?s capitalistic world that concept lost all meaning decades ago. The Olympics smartly gave up on it because it wasn?t fair to the athletes.

All that is left are high schools and the NCAA, which essentially forces its doctrine down the food chain because if these Little Leaguers were paid, they?d forfeit their NCAA scholarship eligibility.

But allowing the NCAA to set the moral standards on youth sports is like letting Exxon write environmental laws.

The NCAA is a multi-billion dollar bureaucracy that isn?t good at anything other than staging national sports tournaments. The reason it doesn?t pay the athletes is not because it values amateurism but because doing so would soak up all the revenue and prevent its administrators and coaches from becoming millionaires.

Then again, the NCAA at least provides a full scholarship for its athletes. Which is more than the Little League does.

Bob Cook at MSNBC.com recently summoned Karl Marx and insightfully (if tongue in cheek) wrote that all these 12-year-olds should consider a strike. Or maybe they could get agents like the child actors.

Unfortunately that won?t happen. Obviously nothing is going to change. Just suggesting it angers people.

The adults here ? the Little League, ESPN and ABC, Kellogg?s and the rest ? have a summer cash cow, courtesy of a na?ve and desperate preteen work force from Staten Island to Saipan.

First they sold America on the purity of a game being played by unpaid kids.

Then they sold a lot of advertising.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist.

I have to say I think this makes a lot of sense. I'm sur eplenty will disagree with me, but these kids deserve something. Could you imagine the number of penny swedish fishies you could buy for $750?

08-27-2006, 03:03 PM
I don't know if these kids in the LLWS deserve a slice of the profit pie but I would hope these teams where ever they are from get free transportation, room and board if they make it to Williamsport............paid for by LLB, Inc.

Good luck to team USA(Georgia)-vs-Japan in the Championship Game today.

08-29-2006, 02:39 PM
Congrats to the USA-Georgia Team for winning the LLWS 2-1 over the Japanese team yesterday.