Little League Baseball Inc. is using the Internet to help take kids out to the ballgame.
This year the Williamsport, Pa., nonprofit organization urged all 5,000 U.S. leagues to name an "information officer" in charge of Internet activities. The new post assists the league commissioners and treasurers who administer operations. Already, 4,000 of the leagues have named an information officer. Little League is using the Internet to simplify the gargantuan task of keeping track of the rosters of 220,000 teams and three million players around the world that make it one of the world's largest volunteer organizations.
Little League signed an exclusive five-year deal with MyTeam.com (www.myteam.com), a Woburn, Mass., company that runs Internet operations for various amateur-sports leagues. MyTeam, which has raised $44 million in venture capital, doesn't charge Little League anything. It makes money by selling ads and selling companies the opportunity to send e-mail pitches -- for pitching machines, sports drinks and other such stuff -- to the players' parents and coaches. Parents and coaches can opt out of receiving the sales pitches, and they have to give permission for their kids to get direct mail.
Every Little League is encouraged to build a home page using the MyTeam software. Each player, and even parents and grandparents, can have personal home pages that show their schedules and those of family members. They can also add schedules from soccer, hockey or other sports they play. "All the schedules appear on one page. We're replacing the refrigerator door," says Elliot Katzman, president of MyTeam. MyTeam also provides an automatic messaging service, sponsored by Coca-Cola's Powerade sports drink. A coach can cancel practice by simply keying in a change and the computerized service will call phone numbers designated by the parents. Coaches can publish game summaries on the site with pictures. They can even e-mail the summary to local newspapers.
This winter, about two-thirds of U.S. Little League rosters were sent in electronically, significantly reducing the Little League's storage and filing requirements. Little League still keeps many rosters going back to its founding in 1939. During the presidential campaign, it was able to retrieve a 1954 roster from Midland, Texas, that included George W. Bush. Stephen Keener, president of Little League, says, "We have to maintain voice and face-to-face contact with volunteers, but there will come a day when there won't be a lot of printed communications." He adds that "its going faster and smoother and it's been better received than we would have anticipated."
Keener says he hasn't quantified cost savings, but he says phone bills and the number of forms printed have dropped. He says Little League has converted "the overwhelming majority" of its numerous forms so they can be downloaded and returned electronically. In January, Little League unveiled the agenda for its annual meeting in March, in a Web cast accessible to volunteers around the world. Of 600 eligible representatives, 150 logged on and heard a presentation on issues. In a live, nonbinding poll, they voted in favor of U.S. Little League using Jan. 1 rather than July 31 as the date for determining the age of eligible players.