business

Baseball Fan Buys a League of His Own

Software entrepreneur Bob Duff of Fairfax, Virginia, purchased an adult hardball league, for the love of the game.

Why does a 58-year-old still play baseball? I'm obviously biased, but I think baseball is the greatest sport. It's a phenomenal game of chess. I started playing in the Ponce de Leon league, which holds games in counties around Washington, D.C., in 1993. It was the first time I'd played baseball in about 23 years.

Why buy the league? I began hearing rumors that another player was trying to get the owners to sell him the league. So I told them to put my name in the hat, too. Ten years later they contacted everyone who had expressed interest.

What happened next? First, I brought in my company's accountant to analyze the finances. Annual revenues were about $400,000 -- mainly from playing fees from about 750 players and the spring training we hold every February in Fort Myers, Fla. It's sort of a poor man's fantasy camp, where we bring in minor-league managers and coaches. My accountant said not to pay more than 1.5 times revenues for a company like this.

Why did the owners eventually choose you? I was the only true entrepreneur among all the bidders.

Is the league profitable? The league roughly pays the salaries of the people who do the work -- my daughter and son. But it does not appear that the venture will pay dividends.

What are the economics? Revenues have dropped off from the peak years, starting with a 40% decline in spring-training attendance in 2007. Revenues from the Fort Myers program fell from $100,000 in 2007 to $60,000 because of the weak economy, though they have started to creep back up since. Our other expenses include field rental and paying for umpires, equipment and the pros we bring down to Florida. We have about $50,000 to $100,000 left for salaries.

So, you're not doing this for the money? This is something you do for love. On Saturdays, I rake fields. On Mondays, I'm at work.

What's your biggest headache? Scheduling 25 games a week.

And your greatest joy? Experiencing the magic of baseball.

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