ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Adult softball leagues in Abilene say price increases are driving teams away to areas that are less expensive and have better facilities.
“We’re seeing quite a few less teams,” said Darryl Ellis, Director for USSSA Abilene.
To create new revenue during budget shortfalls, the Abilene City Council approved charging all league sport players $20 per player per facility and $25 for non-Abilene residents.
“Should they pay more? Well, if they are not paying property taxes, they probably should pay more,” Abilene City Manager Robert Hanna said at a 2020 city council meeting.
The city says the new fee helps pay for maintenance and lights, but members from the Abilene Slow pitch Softball Association say the added fees have made the cost of playing softball too expensive.
“Nobody wants to pay that amount to play 10 games in Abilene,” said a player who wishes to remain anonymous.
He says playing the sport helped turn his life around.
“I struggled with drug addiction for 18 years, and softball has been what’s kept me sober for eight years,” he says.
Now he’s afraid he won’t be able to play since more teams have dropped out.
“We have anywhere between 50 and 60 teams,” said Ellis.
Ellis says they have significantly fewer teams now.
“This year our numbers are down to 20 to 25,” said Ellis.
Ellis says it previously cost $525 per team.
Of that amount, $400 of the funding goes to hiring private maintenance for Nelson Park, staff, umpires for every game, and supplies for the field, $25 goes to USSSA, and each player would pay $10 for themselves.
“It used to be $10 a contract, now they have to pay $30 because $20 of it has to go to the city,” said Ellis.
So, with the new city fee, it’s around $725 per team, which is about $75 per player.
“What’s the point of playing $700 when you’re playing the same two teams?” said Abigail Lopez, ASSA softball player.
Ellis says they recognize that COVID-19 has played a part in teams dropping out, but they have received dozens of complaints that it’s just too expensive.
Ellis says he is worried about losing potential tournaments since there are not enough teams in their league, they can’t afford to make upgrades needed to the fields, such as scoreboards, that would make Abilene more desirable for hosting.
The Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau says they have not yet had any complaints about tournament fees.