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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

How The Little League World Series Became One Of Summer’s Most-Watched Sporting Events

Television networks have long understood the lure of Little League. CBS first aired the Little League championship game in 1953, on tape delay and in black and white. ABC broadcast the game live for the first time in 1960 but then made it a regular Sunday feature of its Wide World of Sports coverage starting in 1963.

ABC took the game live in 1985 while also becoming the first network to mount a small camera on the mask of the home plate umpire.

Shortly after ABC Sports and ESPN integrated in the mid-1990s, the network started covering Little League. In 2000, ESPN aired 12 Little League games before adding the regional championship games the following year.

By 2012, ESPN was broadcasting 66 Little League games, including the girls Softball World Series. Last year that number jumped to 233 games with the advent of streaming services on ESPN+. This year, ESPN will cover every game in all seven divisions of the Little League World Series, including boys and girls in older divisions as well. ESPN will air a whopping 345 games in all, including 263 on ESPN+.

ESPN is introducing a Little League home run derby this year, as well as simulcasting a game in which kids will take part in the broadcast.

“I truly believe the LLWS is everything that is good about sports, and that’s hard to find these days,” said Rick Mace, ESPN’s senior manager of programming and acquisitions, who is also a Little League dad.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 14, 2019 at 10:28 AM | 22 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: little league world series

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   1. Bhaakon Posted: August 14, 2019 at 05:57 PM (#5871449)
I'll be honest, most of what I remember about the LLWS are cheating scandals.
   2. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: August 14, 2019 at 06:27 PM (#5871461)
I'll be honest, most of what I remember about the LLWS are cheating scandals.

Yup. Seems like there's always one or more kids with a 5 o'clock shadow.
   3. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: August 14, 2019 at 06:42 PM (#5871463)
I'll be honest, most of what I remember about the LLWS are cheating scandals.

Here's one for this year
   4. My name is RMc and I feel extremely affected Posted: August 14, 2019 at 09:02 PM (#5871496)
I'm so old, I remember when they only broadcast one Little League game a year: the championship, where Taiwan won by about 23 runs.
   5. Lassus Posted: August 14, 2019 at 09:10 PM (#5871500)
The LLWS is the absolute opposite of fun.
   6. Howie Menckel Posted: August 14, 2019 at 09:20 PM (#5871502)
I love the non-denial denial in post 3

"We hold our coaches, players and teams to the highest standards," the Barrington statement said, "and do not coach or condone unsportsmanlike behavior of any kind."

I've been to Barrington; it's near Mystic, CT - which really does have a place called Mystic Pizza, which really does have awesome pizza. and it opened before the movie came out.
   7. Rob_Wood Posted: August 14, 2019 at 09:32 PM (#5871506)
The LLWS is the absolute opposite of fun.


+1000
   8. puck Posted: August 14, 2019 at 09:37 PM (#5871508)
The kids throw the ball. It's like a bunch of Mark Buehrle's out there.
   9. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 14, 2019 at 10:21 PM (#5871538)
My kid watched it a few summers ago and it inspired him to really get into baseball, so I think it's pretty neato.
   10. Man o' Schwar Posted: August 15, 2019 at 12:05 AM (#5871553)
I'm so old, I remember when they only broadcast one Little League game a year: the championship, where Taiwan won by about 23 runs.

That felt like a big deal. Saturday afternoon, Wide World of Sports on ABC. The US versus Taiwan or... well, usually Taiwan. On the rare occasion when the US won, it was a huge story.

Now it just goes on forever. 2+ weeks of games on ESPN all day. It's like so much stuff, they learned they could make some money off of it, and then ESPN shoved it down everyone's throats (see: 900 days of coverage of the World Series of Poker).
   11. OsunaSakata Posted: August 15, 2019 at 08:30 AM (#5871570)
I have no problem with the existence of the Little League World Series, but televising it gives off the icky, slimy, feel of the NCAA. Except it's worse because the exploited talent are even younger. The pull quote is always,"everything that is good about sports," which is practically the NCAA mantra...after "student-athlete".
   12. villageidiom Posted: August 15, 2019 at 08:57 AM (#5871579)
It's like so much stuff, they learned they could make some money off of it, and then ESPN shoved it down everyone's throats (see: 900 days of coverage of the World Series of Poker).
Most of what LLWS games are replacing on ESPN are shouting-head shows. I fully endorse them doubling the current amount of LLWS coverage, because it's sports.
   13. GGC Posted: August 15, 2019 at 10:17 AM (#5871617)
I've been to Barrington; it's near Mystic, CT - which really does have a place called Mystic Pizza, which really does have awesome pizza. and it opened before the movie came out.


It's more than hour away. Trust me. I worked in East Providence for a while and it took me an hour to get there and Barrington is further down the road.
   14. Howie Menckel Posted: August 15, 2019 at 10:33 AM (#5871622)
interesting. went to both in the 1990s a number of times, and didn't recall that.
well, it's probably a good thing to be enjoying time off and paying no attention to time.

:)
   15. Cris E Posted: August 15, 2019 at 10:58 AM (#5871633)
Saw some 12-13 age softball last night that was played under the auspices of Little League Incorporated (or whatever.) Good to see the girls getting to share the fun, but it's still kind of icky. So many aggregate all-star "teams", soooo many insane parents, half the kids on the field with muted terror in their eyes on each pitch, I don't know, doesn't look like the fun I remember. (But when I was 12 I'm certain it would have frickin' rocked.)
   16. Bull Pain Posted: August 15, 2019 at 11:14 AM (#5871640)
"Little League" as an organization is a bureaucratic mess, but they did a great job getting their name out as the standard bearer of youth baseball. But in reality, they are so far behind the times that a small percentage of kids actually play "Little League" as opposed to Cal Ripken, Pony, etc... In the above average population state where I grew up, I'd guess fewer than 100 leagues are Little League affiliated. As far as I know, only two out of perhaps 50 leagues in my old suburban area still use it. At that age group, Cal Ripken kids are pitching from 4 feet further back with deeper fences, 10 more feet between bases and the ability to lead off/steal bases in a normal way. Thus, pitchers have to pitch from the stretch with players on base. You know, normal baseball that today's 11-12 year olds are more than capable of handling.
   17. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: August 15, 2019 at 11:20 AM (#5871642)

I have no problem with the existence of the Little League World Series, but televising it gives off the icky, slimy, feel of the NCAA. Except it's worse because the exploited talent are even younger. The pull quote is always,"everything that is good about sports," which is practically the NCAA mantra...after "student-athlete".

ESPN currently pays $7.5 million per year for the broadcast rights, which is less than Nick Saban or John Calipari's annual salary. And the total operating budget of Little League, Incorporated is about $30 million per year. Given the scale of the operations and the number of people involved that doesn't seem like that much money. I mean, I'm sure someone somewhere is skimming a little off the top, but this isn't FIFA or the NCAA. To the extent that there's exploitation, I guess it's the fact that ESPN is probably making a lot more in advertising than they are paying for the broadcast rights.
   18. Benji Gil Gamesh VII - The Opt-Out Awakens Posted: August 15, 2019 at 11:29 AM (#5871648)
That felt like a big deal. Saturday afternoon, Wide World of Sports on ABC. The US versus Taiwan or... well, usually Taiwan. On the rare occasion when the US won, it was a huge story.
CODY WEBSTER!!
   19. Ziggy is done with Dominican discotheques Posted: August 15, 2019 at 11:35 AM (#5871651)
I don't know about TV coverage, but as far as cultural impact goes, the LLWS has got nothing on Japan's Koshien tournament.
   20. JAHV Posted: August 15, 2019 at 12:51 PM (#5871683)
"Little League" as an organization is a bureaucratic mess, but they did a great job getting their name out as the standard bearer of youth baseball. But in reality, they are so far behind the times that a small percentage of kids actually play "Little League" as opposed to Cal Ripken, Pony, etc... In the above average population state where I grew up, I'd guess fewer than 100 leagues are Little League affiliated. As far as I know, only two out of perhaps 50 leagues in my old suburban area still use it. At that age group, Cal Ripken kids are pitching from 4 feet further back with deeper fences, 10 more feet between bases and the ability to lead off/steal bases in a normal way. Thus, pitchers have to pitch from the stretch with players on base. You know, normal baseball that today's 11-12 year olds are more than capable of handling.


This is true. My son plays Little League ball for a couple of reasons, the main one being that he's got Osteogenesis Imperfecta, so he's tiny and would be left behind fairly quickly in more competitive leagues. The nice thing about the Little League we are part of is that it promotes development over competitiveness. There are All Stars after the season, but there are no "select" teams which are given the best players during the season, and each team during league play is selected completely by draft with no frozen players. I know that isn't the case even among different little leagues, but I like that aspect of it. He's small, but he knows baseball, so he can still compete during the season with teams that are roughly similar in skill level. And, as his coach, I can play him without anyone bothering me about giving undue playing time to my son.

That said, partially because of the continued focus on developing every kid equally (there's even a Little League bylaw that says kids can't be turned away, even if they can't pay) but primarily because of the adherence to outdated traditions, Little League has fallen well behind the other youth baseball organizations in preparing kids for higher levels. Moving from 46-foot mounds and 60-foot bases with no lead-offs at age 12 to 60.5-foot mounds and 90-foot bases at age 13 is a ridiculous jump. Pitchers aren't ready, fielders aren't ready, baserunners aren't ready. The gradual Pony- and tournament-style curve makes a lot more sense. 8U plays at 65-foot bases, 9U at 70, and it moves up from there, with the mound moving back as well. While some of the rules are a little tough on some kids (teaching 9-year-olds how not to balk, for example), it's good preparation and they pick it up eventually.

There are some other things, too, that are outdated. I'm the Umpire-in-Chief for my league and per Little League rules, I am not allowed to hire umpires. We must use volunteers. I have flouted this rule a few times out of necessity, and honestly, our league is probably too poor to be able to hire anyone good full-time anyway. But it does handcuff us, and as a result, we wind up with relatively inexperienced umpires. It's hard to blame parents who want to move to a better organized, higher level league, even if it means paying a bit more and having to put up with some teams having unfair advantages during league play. I think Little League is going to have to make some changes in the relatively near future if they want to continue as a going concern.
   21. DL from MN Posted: August 15, 2019 at 01:17 PM (#5871687)
FWIW my daughter plays competitive club level softball and I have no idea how to even find a "Little League" affiliated softball team. I don't think there are any in my state.
   22. My name is RMc and I feel extremely affected Posted: August 15, 2019 at 02:09 PM (#5871702)
I have no problem with the existence of the Little League World Series, but televising it gives off the icky, slimy, feel of the NCAA.

Can the Hunger Games be far behind?

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