For 12 1/2 years, George Abraham enjoyed the job security, full benefits, regular hours and steady pay of his job with the U.S. Postal Service. Then, he politely told Uncle Sam to put his last paycheck in the mail.
Last July, Abraham decided to make a career out of what began as a nice way to make a few extra bucks on weekends. Now, there are days when it seems as if the telephone has become permanently attached to Abraham's ear. He has an answering service, a part-time secretary and a beeper. He has an office in Orange, but often finds himself doing paper work at home until he falls asleep in front of the TV.
Such is life for a man who probably is the largest independent promoter of slo-pitch softball tournaments in Southern California.
Abraham is the executive director of the Southern California Softball Assn., which organizes between five and eight tournaments in Orange County each weekend, 50 weekends a year. Abraham gives himself Christmas and New Year's weekends off. He said there is enough demand to operate tournaments every weekend of the year, but he choses not to. "I like to keep my sanity," he said. "Besides, my wife would shoot me if I did."
Abraham has made a business out of what was once a great pleasure. Once a confessed slo-pitch junkie himself, he now is making a living helping others support their healthy habit. "I used to be one of those people who played five nights a week and on the weekend," Abraham said. "But then I got into this, and now it's my business. It's still fun . . . it's a game, but it's business now. It's my livelihood."
Abraham never envisioned getting to this point when he and a partner first put together a weekend tournament in the fall of 1982. Back then, Abraham estimated that he was mailing out flyers to about 150 teams, and was organizing a tournament every six weeks. "Now, I'm doing six to eight tournaments every weekend, and I've got real close to 2,500 teams I mail flyers to on a monthly basis. That's how much it's grown over the course of four years."
That growth is what prompted Abraham's decision to give up his real job and become a full-time tournament promoter. He began working at his home, making tournament arrangements by phone. There is considerably more to those arrangements than showing up on Saturday and throwing out the balls, and when his call-waiting line at home turned into call waiting, and waiting, and waiting and his garage began to be cluttered with trophies and softball equipment, it became apparent that he needed a new place of business. He moved the operation into the office in Orange last March.
Abraham's work week consists of contacting various city park and recreation departments to secure fields, wading through floods of calls from representatives of teams interested in signing up for tournaments, drawing up tournament brackets, arranging for the scheduling and payment of umpires, maintaining the growing mailing list, ordering equipment and prizes, even dealing with corporate sponsors, who have begun to recognize that there are a lot of ball, bat and glove consumers in his tournaments.
Like any business, Abraham's has its share of headaches. High overhead, for starters. Abraham estimates that his SCSA phone bill runs between $800 and $1,000 per month. Liability insurance is up to about $2,700 per year, compared to the $175 he said he paid when he started.
Rainouts have a disastrous effect on cash flow. Five straight weekends of rain in February and March had Abraham beginning to wonder if they needed any help back at the post office.
Abraham has hired a collection agency to go after the entry fee checks that have taken bad hops. "I've had $4,000 worth of bad checks in six months," he said. "That's ridiculous." An entire tournament suffers when one team calls to cancel out on Friday night, which Abraham said happens nearly every week. One manager stopped payment on a check because he thought an umpire's call had cost his team a spot in the championship game of a tournament. "I went back and looked at the bracket," Abraham said. "That team was in its seventh game of the tournament, and he wanted all of his money back."
It costs a team $140 (in advance, $150 on the day of the tournament) to enter one of Abraham's tournaments. There are those who disregard the overhead, use simple arithmetic and come to the conclusion that slo-pitch is making George Abraham some fast bucks.
"A lot of people think I'm just making millions," he said. "Some of them cannot even relate to what the expenses are. They see me have a 100-team tournament at $140 a team, and they say, 'God, you made $14,000 this weekend.' Well, $3,000 gonna go to umpires, probably $2,800 in fields, another three or four thousand in trophies and prizes and about $800 in balls. Out of 140 bucks, I'll probably see $20 or $25 per team."
But those teams keep turning out in big numbers. As long as that continues--and there's no reason to believe it won't--it appears Abraham made a pretty shrewd career move.