The only thing that may be growing faster than the little leaguers actually taking the field is coverage of the games themselves.
ESPN and Little League Baseball and Softball announced earlier this year that all 233 International Tournament games will be carried by the network across its various platforms (ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, and the new ESPN+) this summer for the first time.
Kevin Fountain, the director of media relations for the league, noted this is a demonstration of just how much “the Little League’s relationship with ESPN and ABC has continued to grow and develop since our first live broadcast on ABC in 1960.”
That partnership between the network and the league has grown exponentially, especially the last few years. What began as a rather small, simple affair has “evolved from just the Little League Baseball World Series Championship Game airing on the Wide World of Sports to ESPN covering our entire Little League Baseball World Series, to regional tournament coverage, to broadcasting championship action from all seven of our World Series events,” Fountain outlined.
In 2012, ESPN was carrying 66 games; by 2017 that number had jumped up to 140, and this year will set a record as every Little League Baseball and Softball U.S. Regional and World Series games are slated to be fully covered.
As Little League President and CEO Stephen D. Keener stated, this is something the league has been hoping to do for years.
“Since first televising out Little League Baseball and Softball World Series on ESPN, we have been seeking additional opportunities to promote the game,” he said.
Initiatives like this extensive coverage offer a way to “expand opportunities for boys and girls around the world, and share the many benefits that millions of boys and girls enjoy each summer,” Fountain said.
Additionally — and perhaps overlooked when thinking about what ESPN’s expanded coverage can do for the game — an effort like this does much more than just encourage increased youth participation in the game. This extension provides a way to “showcase the importance of local Little League programs to communities, as well as the many benefits,” Fountain said. Opportunities like this are crucial for the league in enabling them to draw support from key parents, coaches, and partners for their programs worldwide.
ESPN EVP of Programming and Scheduling Burke Magnus expressed how excited the network is to help the Little League do just that; achieving sustainability and growth.
“We are excited to be able to offer a substantially increased number of games, as they are marquee events every summer that we can now bring to more viewers,” Magnus said.
Not only does this expanded coverage help promote the league effectively, it also provides ESPN with some excellent content, making the relationship incredibly beneficial for both parties.
One thing that Fountain, Little League, and ESPN were all sure to emphasize is how the rollout of ESPN+ made something like this possible. All 233 games can be covered in their entirety because now the network has more time allotted for programming, and with an entity like ESPN’s new ESPN+ OTT streaming service, the network can now stream games from some of the earlier rounds that might not draw enough eyeballs to justify broadcasting them on linear television.
This expanded relationship provides an interesting opportunity for ESPN to further solidify and continue to develop its ESPN+ streaming service. It’s also a great way for Little League to reach the “next generation” of players apt to consume more of their content away from the traditional linear medium.