According to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, “The single biggest determinant of whether a kid becomes a baseball fan for life is whether or not they play.” MLB’s investment in the LeagueApps platform is helping ensure they do.
A central goal of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s vision for his sport is to increase youth participation. The league launched a series of initiatives under the “Play Ball” label to encourage youth to join a Little League or even just play catch or hit a Wiffle ball in the backyard. As Manfred often says, “The single biggest determinant of whether a kid becomes a baseball fan for life is whether or not they play.”
While overall participation numbers in organized youth sports are down, according to Sports & Fitness Industry Association data, participation in baseball has grown 21% since 2015. That’s quadruple the increase of any other major sport in the U.S. during that time, and in 2018, baseball and softball combined to be the No. 1 participation sport in the country for the third straight year.
One underlying reason for this growth has been MLB’s investment in and adoption of LeagueApps’ technology, a team management platform that facilitates registering, organizing and communicating. The company bills itself as an “operating system for youth sports,” says Jeremy Goldberg, LeagueApps president. The software is made available to all leagues affiliated with MLB’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, enabling growth in underserved communities largely left behind by the increasing costs of youth sports.
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After taking part in the accelerator run by the Los Angeles Dodgers and R/GA (now known as the Global Sports Venture Studio), LeagueApps ran a successful pilot program managing the administration of the Dodgers’ affiliated RBI entities. The size of that program has grown exponentially, from 2,000 youth in 2014 to 11,000 in 2019 spanning 85 locations through L.A. and Long Beach.
Before LeagueApps, everything was recorded on pen and paper and then manually entered into Excel, a process that was “insane,” says Nichol Whiteman, CEO of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation. “I think it made us feel very safe and efficient in increasing the number of participants in our programs.” MLB’s venture fund, which targets early-stage companies that offer both financial promise and a strategic benefit, invested in LeagueApps in 2016.
“A piece of it, in addition to just raw dollars and facilities, is the overlay of technology. LeagueApps was one of our early innovation efforts,” Manfred says. “If you think about it, the enjoyable part of youth sports and the most important part of youth sports to the individual player is the coaching and teaching that goes on. Unfortunately, for that coaching and teaching to go on most efficiently and effectively, you’ve got to figure out to handle all of the administrative [work]—the rosters, the schedules, the sign-ups—and that’s what LeagueApps is about.”