While the Little League World Series pulls in major league-sized ratings for ESPN, the network doesn’t forget at the end of the day, these athletes are only 10 to 12 years old.
For example, the pint-sized sluggers will get their own home run derby contest for the first time this year.
But while the derby will be held on Saturday, August 17, ESPN will present an edited, tape-delayed version of the event on Sunday, Aug. 18 at 4:30 p.m – a step that the network is taking to make sure the dignity of those competing is preserved.
Taking the extra day to edit the tape will maximize the joy or the event while removing any embarrassing moments for boys and girls participating, according to Rick Mace, senior manager for MLB and Little League Programming at ESPN.
“It’s a big priority for us to make sure that these kids are portrayed in the best possible light whenever we put them on,” Mace explained.
Even ESPN contributors like Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times has bewailed the sight of tiny Little Leaguers weeping over their baseball failures on national TV. So call it an extra layer of protection by ESPN.
For the first time since ABC started showing the Little League World Series in 1963, the Disney-owned ABC/ESPN networks will show all 345 games from all seven divisions across ESPN, ESPN2, ABC and ESPN+. A whopping 263 games will be shown exclusively on ESPN+.
Little League officials proposed showing all of its games more than two years ago, according to Mace. But there’s only so many programming hours to go around on ESPN’s linear networks. The launch of the over-the-top streaming service ESPN+ finally made the plan a reality.
“With ESPN+ we had the ability to add as much as we wanted. It was kind of a perfect storm for the timing with Little League,” said Mace.
Added Stephen D. Keener, Little League’s president and chief executive officer,in a statement: “We are once again thrilled to work with the team at ESPN to provide expanded coverage of our World Series and Regional events on both the baseball and softball sides of our program this year and are proud of the historic progress we made this year to broadcast all of our World Series games.”
Kids will not only be the focus on the field, but in the announcer booth as well. ESPN will also test a “Kidscast” for the first time, with two 16-year old teenagers from sports anchor Bruce Beck’s Sports Broadcasting Camp handling play-by-play and analysis.
There will also be two 15-year old sideline reporters for the Kidscast, which is scheduled to air Aug. 21 on ESPN2. Mo’ne Davis, who appeared on the front cover of Sports Illustrated after becoming the first girl to pitch a shutout in Little League World Series history, will also serve as an analyst.
Beck, the longtime sports anchor for WNBC-TV in New York, said while other events come and go, Little League Baseball has stood the test of time.
“Little League Baseball appeals to everyone – kids and adults alike. It is a family affair. The energy and vibrance is unmatched,” Beck said. “There is a purity to the game. And the only predictability of the game itself is the unpredictability of the outcome.”
Beck has a point. While the focus will be on amateurs in Williamsport, the ratings are nothing but professional.
ESPN’s Williamsport slate of 32 games averaged 1,020,000 viewers last season, up 13% from 900,000 in 2017. The championship game on ABC averaged 3,248,000 viewers, making it Little League’s most-watched championship game since 2015.
Heading into Williamsport Thursday, this year’s regional coverage on ESPN and ESPN2 combined to average 595,733 viewers, up 14% over 2018.
Despite ESPN being the home of major sports properties like the NFL, NBA, MLB and UFC, Little League continues to rank up there with the U.S. Open and Wimbledon as some of its most marquee events.
As Mace said about Little League and the tennis tournaments: “These things come in and they dominate the news cycle, they dominate our air time and they drive huge viewership for us. Little League fits right in with those other types of events.”