One phrase you often hear athletes say is “This is a business.”
And for professional athletes that is entirely true.
However, when you start talking about amateurs it’s a whole different story. Much debate has ensued in recent years over whether college athletes should be paid.
Well, let’s take it a step further: Should Little League Baseball players be paid?
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On the surface, that seems a like stupid question. “They’re between 10 and 12 years old,” you might say. Well, like many college athletes, they’re making money for others, so why shouldn’t they be able to cash in?
After all, it is reportedly a $15 billion industry now.
Lately, just about any time you turn on ESPN you’ll see a televised Little League Baseball game. In fact, just the other day I realized that just a few weeks from the NFL season, popular show “NFL Live” had been shifted to ESPN2 to accommodate the LLWS.
But it’s not by coincidence. While I’ve not seen revenue numbers, ESPN has to be making a boatload off the backs of these kids’ jerseys. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have paid $60 million to lock up Little League World Series rights through 2022.
Here’s what ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions Norby Williamson told sportsbusinessdaily.com about the deal:
““For us, it’s perfect timing to have a two-week tournament pre-football,” Williamson told the news outlet. “It delivers good ratings for us.”
If the ratings are good, the advertising is good. If the advertising is good, the money is good. Right?
Yet, none of that trickles down to these pre-teens. Yes, they get the exposure of national television where they can flip bats after home runs, make SportsCenter Top 10 plays and ham it up.
But they also have to deal with the pressure of having the bright lights shining down like a heat lamp.
Putting aside the cons, the pros are nothing compared to what ESPN’s got to be hauling in.
In fact, ESPN commentators seem to spend a lot of the broadcast time selling the sport. Perhaps I’m wrong (since I rarely tune in for it), but it appeared the other day the whole broadcast had centered around selling just how great it is.
In some ways they’re absolutely right. The kids are impressive. Still, though, they’re kids and how much does winning a LLWS matter? In the grand scheme of life, I’m not sure why people care.
ESPN surely is trying to make you care, though, that’s for sure. How many times have you seen them talk about how Todd Frazier won a LLWS as a youth? I swear I’ve seen that guy more when the Little League World Series is on than when he played on my favorite MLB team, the Cincinnati Reds.
At this rate, Frazier will be known for winning a LLWS more so than being a Home Run Derby champ.
And don’t get me wrong, I like Todd Frazier. But that’s the best player they can hitch the wagon to?
At least he’s making a lot of money now. Many of the kids who are being exploited for our amusement and pushed way too hard by coaches will never sniff the major leagues.
And all that is despite the fact that their parents are paying big bucks for them to play. There’s travel ball, there’s equipment and there’s LLWS fees. Those are just the expenses off the top of my head.
But don’t worry about all the money going down the drain and into ESPN’s bank account. Let’s also not fret over how the pressure of the stage could psychologically affect these kids.
Focus on the bright side: We just might get another Todd Frazier one day.
David Wetzel: @MYBSports, 843-626-0295