The business of summer collegiate baseball

by Greg in


dollar.jpgIn our short 10 months and nearly 130 posts, we've written about Cape players, coaches, ballparks, statistics -- even uniform styles. We've also written about factors outside of the league, namely other summer leagues like New England and Alaska that have made tough statements about competing with the Cape Cod Baseball League. Baseball America this summer decided to rate summer leagues because of their proliferation and growing popularity. The 14-team Northwoods League in Wisconsin and Minnesota appeared in the Baseball America top tier -- just below the Cape, which remains the top summer league. Northwoods is claiming an average draw of nearly 6,000 fans per game. Check out some of these numbers from the Northwoods League teams.

I've been trying to keep track on my own of the growing number of quality summer collegiate baseball leagues (Wikipedia probaby has the best list, but here is the list I follow) :

Summer Collegiate Baseball Association -- West Coast Collegiate Baseball League, Northwoods, Coastal Plain

National Alliance of College Summer Baseball -- Cape Cod, Great Lakes, Valley Baseball League, Southern Collegiate, Florida Summer Collegiate, Central Illinois, New York Collegiate, Atlantic Collegiate

Others -- New England, Alaska and Horizon Summer Series

What is this growth and apparent competition with the Cape all about? Is it about love of the game, prestige, pride, fun, money or all of the above? Does summer collegiate baseball represent a growth market for the game of baseball?

Possibly. We've already reported on statistical analysis that says the Cape League is not qualitatively different from Single-A professional baseball. Tim Lincecum's short distance from the Cape League two summers ago to winning his first game this week for the San Francisco Giants only underscores that point. We've also reported that the Cape Cod Baseball League has found that of the MLB players who came from four-year colleges, 37.28 percent of them played in the Cape Cod Baseball League. In Moneyball, writer Michael Lewis observes that professional scouts increasingly want to recruit talent out of colleges, not high school -- again emphasizing the importance of summer collegiate leagues.

So what can we conclude? Well, summer leagues are growing because fans are savvy consumers. They realize they can see professional-quality baseball for less money right in their own community. And the money is adding up.

The CCBL reported this year that -- all-in -- the league requires about $2 million to operate. It also reportedly attracted 330,000 fans in 2006. Because the CCBL operates as a non-profit, the league must report its finances to the IRS in the form of an IRS 990. According to the CCBL's IRS reports on Guidestar.com, this is what their finances looked like in recent years:

2002 2004 2005

Revenues $371,578 $681,448 $473,467

Expenses $343,657 $352,834 $508,513

Assets $468,340 $832,324 $797,278

In comparison, the Alaska Baseball League (6 teams), often thought of as the other breeding ground for Major Leaguers, brings in $421,000 in revenues per year and expends $383,000 annually, according to its IRS filings. It reports assets of $268,000. Fewer teams, but fairly similar numbers.

Out in the 8-team West Coast Collegiate Baseball League (WCCBL), the Corvalis (Oregon) Knights is owned by Nike founder Phil Knight's wife, Penny Knight. Teams in the WCCBL are reporting average crowds of nearly 1,000. On July 26th of last season the Knight drew 1,547 fans.

Some of the summer league teams are operating as small businesses and so their financials are not accessible.

The 10-team CCBL recently reported that it's operating costs hover around $550,000 per year and that when you add in the 10 teams the total budget is closer to $2 million. The League helps to bring in major philanthropic gifts such as those from Yawkey and the Fuller Family to offset expenses.

We've reported on the Yawkey gifts but not on the the Fuller gift. The Fullers, a south Florida family (Sandra and Victor) announced earlier this year on the CCBL website that they will donate $225,000 over the next 5 years ($45,000 per year) to the CCBL.

No doubt this is a major and important donation. However, the CCBL news release is short on details about why the family made the donation other than to say they support voluntarism, something the Cape league certainly does depend on. But how will their gift be used? The Yawkey gifts are always very clear and prescriptive.

One of the motivating ideas behind CodBall is to shed more light, stimulate more discussion and enable greater understanding of America's most imporant summer collegiate baseball league. With just one month until Opening Day on the Cape, we didn't want to miss a chance to look at the business side of summer collegiate baseball.