At the core of Little League International’s sponsorship program is deepening the relationship between the partners and the local leagues across the country and globe.
The past 18 to 24 months have seen an expansion of sponsorship programming from existing partners, Little League CMO Liz DiLullo Brown said. From long-term partners like Honda to a new “Unity Band” initiative from adidas, Little League sponsors are deepening participation.
“The involvement and interest has grown and changed in a positive way,” said Brown, who has been with the organization for 10 years. “The evolution has allowed the growth to happen around our events and now they’re looking at it in a 360-degree way and embracing the full seasonality of the sport.”
While Brown said there’s always been programming throughout the regular season, the recent surge in activations across the season comes from a desire to further connect with the target audience from the minute they step on the field at the beginning of their respective seasons to the final two-week tournament.
Perhaps the most visible season-long partnership is the organization’s partnership with T-Mobile – a result of Little League’s joint sponsorship agreement with MLB – and its Little League Home Run Derby, which held local and regional tournaments this season. The top eight baseball and softball sluggers meet this weekend in Williamsport, which will air August 18.
“That’s a big positive for parents, players and volunteers,” Brown said. “[All the sponsors] are unique in their own ways, unique goals and strategies, but there’s an underlying message of sports matter and supporting local leagues.”
Brown said sponsorship revenues have stayed relatively steady the past five years, but the partners are simply looking at their activation budgets with a new eye. Beyond sponsorship revenue, Brown likes to stress the propensity for the partners to buy into the local communities and give back.
Honda has been among Little League sponsors for 23 years, provided nearly $1.5 million in grants to more than 250 local leagues. Meanwhile, on the ground in Williamsport, Honda provides approximately 4,000 shuttle rides. Another long-term sponsor, Dick’s Sporting Goods, announced a five-year, $500,000 commitment to local districts and leagues across the U.S.
Brown said much of the sponsorship money is channeled back into communities in education and resources, so beyond the extra grant funds from sponsors, Little League also encourages a more on-the-ground activation approach. That could mean connecting associates from a local T-Mobile store with a league and encouraging volunteering or a Chick-fil-a franchise operator hosting a fundraising night.
“There’s a creative process with each partner to help them understand how it operates so they can become a part of the fabric of success,” Brown said.
She also said long-term stability with partners is of utmost importance to help build brand awareness and those relationships with local leagues and allows Little League to have more stability.
The stability has also led to those partners getting more visibility and exposure on ESPN during the Little League World Series broadcast. The growing broadcast exposure has also led partners to realize there’s more opportunity to the international aspect of Little League, an aspect which helped attract adidas.
The apparel company came together to unveil uniforms for this year’s Little League World Series tournaments, beginning with the Senior League Baseball World Series in July. The new uniforms include a “unity band” on the inside of the jersey neck with each region’s color bar fused together. Each team is outfitted with adidas cleats, training apparel and accessories, as well as supplies for coaches.
“When these boys and girls from around the world get together and share a common goal, there is a unique bonding experience that happens and we wanted to put a spotlight on that unity through the design of these uniforms,” said Todd Rolak, adidas senior design director for U.S. Sports. “The Little League World Series tournaments are a tremendous journey for young athletes, and we find the ability to have an impact on these moments and these memories incredibly rewarding at adidas.”
Similarly, Easton Baseball/Softball has an exclusive deal as team equipment supplier, providing all Little League World Series teams with donation kits including helmets, gloves, batters’ gloves, catchers gear and backpacks.
The number of Little League sponsors should continue to grow in the future, thanks to the joint sponsorship agreement with MLB announced earlier this year. In the agreement, MLB oversees non-endemic partnerships, so brands can leverage both MLB and Little League. The relationship between T-Mobile and the creation of the Little League Home Run Derby came as a direct result.
“What if we could do some of these together to avoid the conflict and strengthen both efforts?” Little League President and CEO Steve Keener told FOS in March. “It’s to bring together business partners so we can have an impact on the sport from a grassroots level to the Major Leagues.”