Major League Baseball and Little League International are set to grow their partnership via a joint agreement to collaboratively oversee the sponsorship programs of Little League Baseball. The deal is expected to greatly increase and expand the programs Little League can provide youth baseball and softball players.
“We’ve had a really good relationship with MLB for many years, but it’s really evolved and enhanced the last three or four years since Rob Manfred became the commissioner,” said Little League President and CEO Steve Keener. “One of his major objectives is to increase the platforms for youth engagements and trying to get more kids playing and interested in playing.”
MLB began to ramp up its partnership with youth baseball organization in 2017 with ventures like the MLB Little League Classic, Play Ball and Little League Days at big league ballparks throughout the country. Their collective success paved the way for MLB representatives to approach Little League on this latest deal, which provides programming opportunities for sponsors to the 2.4 million players across the U.S. and more than 80 other nations.
“Little League International has been an enormously valuable partner in helping to grow baseball and softball participation and making deeper connections between the Little Leagues and the big leagues,” said Noah Garden, MLB executive vice president of business and sales. “This expansion of our partnership will provide important corporate and strategic partners with the opportunity to engage with the sport at all levels in an easy, one-stop fashion.
“Developing cohesive joint programs through the increased support of partners will provide young baseball and softball players with more ways to enjoy the sport they love to play and watch.”
A subtler benefit comes through streamlined communication. Previously, both MLB and Little League would negotiate their own sponsor in the same area, a protocol that often inhibited direct cooperation. Starting with this agreement, however, MLB will oversee the non-endemic partnerships while Little League will manage the baseball- and softball-specific agreements. Brands can now create and leverage partnerships with both MLB and Little League, which Keener believes should help provide direct support with grants and training as well as educational and affordability resources to communities across the globe.
“What if we could do some of these together to avoid the conflict and strengthen both efforts?” Keener said of their joint thought process. “It’s to bring together business partners so we can have an impact on the sport from a grassroots level to the Major Leagues.”
The first sponsorship under the joint agreement is already in place by way of T-Mobile’s four-year extension with MLB. The communications company will also help the organization’s bottom line, Keener said, by supporting, promoting and enhancing the 7,500 local Little League affiliates.
It’s one part of why Little League is bullish on its growth prospects as it gears up for the 75th anniversary of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 2021. Another is a significant boost to its international participation by way of an agreement with the Cuban Baseball Federation, which will integrate approximately 170 Cuban youth programs into the Little League system for the first time in its history and allow the Cuban teams to participate in the international tournament — and, potentially, make a run to Williamsport in August.
Overall, Keener expects the MLB sponsorship to further enhance Little League’s wherewithal to make deals domestically and abroad.
“We’re incredibly excited the league values us enough to continue their support at such a high level,” he said. “We will do our part to make it work for everyone, and we’re excited for the opportunities it presents for families and kids across the globe.
“There are so many possibilities to come.”