Little League, ESPN reach 8-year, $76 million deal

Little League and ESPN have agreed to an eight-year, $76 million multi-platform telecast rights extension through 2022, Little League announced on Monday. The amount is more than double their last agreement, which expires after the 2014 season.

The Bristol, Conn.-based sports network said it will have the ability to televise every game from the U.S. regionals and World Series in each of Little League’s nine baseball and softball divisions. Every Little League World Series game from Lamade and Volunteer Stadiums again will be televised on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2, and ABC will continue to carry the U.S., International and LLWS finals.

ESPN also will have enhanced digital rights and the ability to deliver every game on digital platforms, including WatchESPN and ESPN3 (ESPN added 41 exclusive games to broadband service ESPN3 this year), and in-progress highlight rights across all ESPN platforms. In addition, ESPN International will continue to air all games in Canada, Mexico, Latin America and South America, Australia, and New Zealand.

Norby Williamson, ESPN executive vice president of programming and acquisitions, told Sports Business Daily that the timing was perfect, giving a two-week tournament window prior to football season and that the LLWS delivered good ratings. SBD reported the LLWS averaged 911,000 viewers this year through Aug. 18, a figure up 12 percent over 2012, and that the final between West Region champ Chula Vista, Calif., and Tokyo, Japan, drew a 2.6 overnight rating on ABC, up 24 percent from last year.

Tokyo’s Musashi Fuchu Little League won Sunday’s title game, 6-4.

Little League said the new extension will assist its local programs and volunteers. Little League’s board approved lowering the charter fees from $16 to $13 per team per season for 2015, creating a distressed league fund of $500,000, providing financial assistance to domestic and regional tournament hosts, and assisting umpires for all nine of its World Series with a travel stipend.

Besides the Little League Baseball division, Little League also offers Intermediate (50/70) Baseball, Junior League Baseball, Senior League Baseball, Big League Baseball, Little League Softball, Junior League Softball, Senior League Softball and Big League Softball.

Little League’s relationship with ABC dates back to 1963, when the network began televising the final on Wide World of Sports. ESPN first televised Little League in 1983 and several games every year since 1987. The coverage grew to all LLWS games in the past decade.

The current agreement, which was announced in 2007 for eight years, $30.1 million and runs through 2014, cut the charter fee from $18 to $16 and paid for 125 criminal background checks for local leagues. It also assumed the $500,000 cost for free coaches training and teaching materials via the Little League Coach Resource Center. Criminal background checks and resources for coaches will continue to be offered.

“ESPN has been a great partner in helping tell the Little League story to a global audience, and we are delighted to extend our successful relationship,” said Little League CEO Stephen D. Keener in a statement. “With another successful Little League Baseball World Series in the books, we’ll now begin to concentrate on our 75th anniversary coming in 2014. This extension with ESPN is a perfect way to begin our celebration.”

Little League’s first season was played locally in 1939 after being started by Carl Stotz.