At Playpass, we are a team of athletic geeks and recreational league fanatics who love anything and everything sports. Together, we've organized sports for 10 years for over 24,000 players and managed 340 recreational leagues.
Why Did We Write This Guide?
We've played, managed, and coached a lot of sports. And throughout the years, we've noticed something: while playing is fun, organizing recreational sports takes time and effort.
We wanted to fix that. So we did.
We've put our sports knowledge together and created this guide. In it, we explain everything you need to know about starting a recreational sports league.
Here's What You'll Learn:
- How to Plan Your Sports League
- Why Great League Rules and Policies Matter
- How to Manage Your Sports League Like a Pro
Three sections. That's it. Let's go.
How to Plan Your Sports League
The good news: you don't have to spend a fortune to start a sports league. The bad news: if it's your first time organizing a league, there are costs you may overlook.
The Four Costs You Need to Know
Cost breakdown of a typical league with a 25% profit margin:
Facility costs will likely make up about half of your overall expenses
Organizing a sports league for fun? Great! You just need to break even (and hopefully have enough cash to throw a party at the end of the season). However, if you want to start a sustainable sports business, you need a profit margin of 20-40% per league.
Find a Facility
If you own a facility, skip this section. You're lucky. Everyone is jealous.
For everyone else, find and book a facility before the season. It will save you a lot of time and stress. Trust us. Finding and booking a facility is both the most important and hardest part of organizing a sports league.
Here's a not-so-hypothetical story that explains:
Once, there was a sports organizer. Let's call him Josh. Josh was great. He was super passionate about building his soccer league and willing to do the all the organizing work. Go Josh! He worked hard to schedule his league, did some great marketing, and even collected payments from players.
But just before the season, Josh ran into a problem. He couldn't find a facility. Anywhere. Josh scrambled around calling every place and person he knew. No dice.
After all that work, his league was caputs.
Don't be like Josh. Plan ahead, and you'll be ok.
Before you do anything else, find and book a facility
Here's a list of facilities you can rent:
- Public parks
- Public schools
- Private schools
- Sports complexes
- Community centers
The price of each facility will be different - some are nicer than others, more in-demand, or have restrictions. However, once you find a facility within your budget, make sure it's close. No one wants to travel 60 minutes to play a 60-minute flag football game. Pick a facility within 20-30 minutes of most players.
Solid refs will make your league great. They keep players safe, happy and having fun. However, they don't have to be perfect. The best refs are assertive and consistent in their calls. That's what matters. Give yourself the support you need, hire confident refs.
The job of a referee is to:
- Arrive 10 -15 minutes before games start.
- Know all league rules and regulations.
- Enforce these rules.
- Resolve any conflicts.
Referees/Umpires are paid $10-20 an hour.
Choose Quality Equipment
Buy good equipment. It'll cost you more upfront, but it's worth it. Players will have a better experience. Plus, you won't have to replace worn or broken equipment during the season.
Know the equipment you're responsible for. A good facility will provide all fixed equipment, including goalposts, basketball hoops, volleyball nets, and line markings. All other equipment is your responsibility. This can include balls, pumps, flags, bats, cones, whistles, and pinnies.
Ask your facility to store your equipment. Avoid bringing equipment to games. You don't want to forget anything. There's nothing worse than having players but no ball.
Cost of Uniforms
Rec league -uniforms" are usually cotton t-shirts and generally cheap. However, if you want to cut costs, wait for a sponsor. They'll help pay for uniforms. Until then, there are more reasonable alternatives.
In sports where players can easily mistake teams (i.e., basketball, flag football, soccer), buy pinnies to make teams clear. For sports where teams are clear (i.e. volleyball, badminton, baseball) don't even buy uniforms. Let players wear what they want.
Take Team Photos. Quick!
Make sure to take team photos (with your best camera) the day you hand out uniforms. People forget to bring them after that. Take one serious and one goofy photo. Then post the pictures on social media (more on that soon) asking players to tag and share the photos of themselves.
Build a Community
Run a great sports league from day one, and your league will grow on its own. Word of mouth travels fast. Start by marketing your league to friends and family. Ask them to join your league, if they know of anyone who'd be interested, or if they'll help spread the word. Even if they don't become members, friends are free promoters (they'll work out in your league's t-shirt!) and great recruiters, too.
Make a Facebook Page
Use the online platform that is right for your league. Too many to choose from? Pick the one that your target demographic uses the most. Then stick to it.
That being said, Facebook is the most popular social platform, and it's likely your players are using it. A lot. So creating a Facebook page is smart. The goal of your Facebook page is to engage your sport's community and create content members will like and share.
3 Tips to create excellent shareable content on Facebook:
- Stay active
- Post at least 2-7x a week on your league's page with photos, updates, and sports related news that is interesting to your target audience.
- Show the small things
- Just booked the field? Post a picture. Purchased new basketballs? Post a picture. When members see that you're excited about your league, they'll get excited, too.
- Ask questions
- Post sports related questions or ask your audience to comment on a funny sports picture. Playful interactions show that your league has personality. At the very start, a Facebook page, or whichever platform you choose, is your primary online presence. Once membership grows, think about creating a website and expanding onto other social platforms.
Why Great Rules and Policies Matter
Create and modify rules based on the atmosphere of your league. If you're running a social, less competitive league, think about modifying rules. This helps new, less skilled players have more fun. Additionally, you may have to adjust rules due to time or facility constraints. Whatever the case, make sure teams are aware of all rules and regulations before the season starts. For more competitive leagues, have a pre-season meeting with captains.
Your job is to have rules in place that are clearly stated and consistently applied.
Adults usually play by the rules you set. But there are times when a team tries to add an all-star in the playoffs, gets in a heated argument, or aggressively disagrees with a call. For moments like these, have rules of conduct in place. Clearly define what behaviors result in league suspension or termination.
You'd be surprised: just reminding players of proper sportsmanship makes your league better. Setting behavior expectations reduces conflict, keeps games moving, and helps refs.
Sportsmanship guidelines can include:
- Shake hands before and after every match.
- Respect the referee, even when they're wrong.
- Respect opponents and teammates. Don't insult them, do help them up.
- Have integrity. Don't whine, cheat or fake an injury.
- Cheer positively. Don't tolerate bad behavior from others.
Ideally, you want to collect player fees upfront. It's the best way to ensure payment. Despite their promises, people don't actually "bring it next week," especially friends.
If you need to, set up a payment location where people can come and pay you. Even better is to get a Paypal, Venmo, or Square account so members can pay you without cash. Like most credit card providers, expect to pay 2.9% per payment.
When you're ready, find a league management software that supports online payments (wait…we have that). Until then, try hard to collect fees before the season or at the first game.
Use common sense with refunds. In general, be clear and fair.
Provide refunds for:
- Injury (Use your best judgment if players are injured).
- Unexpected life circumstance (i.e. job relocation where a player wants to pull out of the entire league, not just certain games).
- Misjudgment of play (i.e. in week 1 a player has a terrible time and level play is too competitive for their enjoyment)
- Do not give refunds more than 3 weeks into a 10-week league or if a player is terminated due to a behavior violation.
Manage Your League Like a Pro
Be The Face of Your League
Make sure you get out there. Go to games. Talk to players. Tell people why you created a sports league and why it's great. When you develop relationships with people (which they will appreciate), you will quickly learn what's working in your league and what's not. Don't worry, they'll make sure to tell you.
Have a presence off the field, too. Send weekly emails to players with league reminders and updates. They'll appreciate the communication.
Choose a software and tools that are an efficient use of your time. Starting out, Google spreadsheets are great for tracking payments, storing player registration, liability waivers, and creating your league's schedule.
Once your league grows, you can create a website or use online registration software (that's us!) to make your life easier.
Organizing a sports league can be a real headache. But just like the game, hard work can be fun. You'll meet some great people all while organizing the sports you love. It's the truth.
With this guide, you have the foundation to start your league. If you're ready to take the next step, we can help! Our league management software is easy to use and best of all free!
Question: Do I need to register a company and buy insurance?
Answer: Our only formal advice is this: you need to follow all local laws and regulations. We can't help there. We have seen organizers start small without lots of setup work and then done things more officially later on. That sounds like a smart way to do it, but you should check your local laws first.
Ready to start putting something together? We can help!
Playpass makes software for online registration, waivers, scheduling and a free website builder.
You can create your free league website on Playpass in minutes. It's easy to start accepting online payments, collect signed liability waiver forms, share schedules with teams, and more. For starters, here's our guide to getting started with online registration.
Any questions? We're here to help. Shoot us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org