SBJ/April 14 - 20, 2008/This Weeks News

NESN and MSG Network are teaming up to produce regional Little League tourneys

NESN and MSG Network are shelving the traditional Boston-New York rivalry this summer to co-produce Little League Baseball’s New England and Mid-Atlantic regional tournaments.

The duo signed a two-year deal to televise at least five games each from the baseball tournaments, which traditionally are held in Bristol, Conn., at the beginning of August. The RSNs are paying Little League International a “modest” rights fee for the games, a Little League executive said.

These two tournaments will determine each region’s representative for the Little League World Series.

Based on the Little League World Series’ popularity on ESPN and ABC, NESN approached governing body officials two years ago to try to grab the rights to the New England regional tournament. Little League was interested at the time, but was more focused on extending its deal for the World Series with ESPN, which happened last year.

“We saw this as a good opportunity because it’s great family entertainment and a great opportunity to introduce baseball to a younger demographic,” said Joel Feld, NESN’s vice president of programming and executive producer.

NESN eventually approached MSG to jointly bid on the deal, a move that will cut production costs in half, since both channels will use one production team to cover the games.

Neither channel has decided which announcers to use. They have not approached any advertisers yet, either.

Interestingly, most of the executives involved in this deal had firsthand experience with Little League Baseball during stints at ABC Sports. NESN’s Feld was a producer and Len Mead worked in programming; MSG’s Lydia Murphy-Stephans was in programming and production; and Little League consultant Steve Solomon worked in ABC’s programming department.

“It was one of our favorite events,” Murphy-Stephans said.

As for Little League, it is hoping that this deal will be a template for further deals eventually, but it is not looking to televise other regions this year.

“We want to crawl before we walk,” said Steve Keener, Little League International’s president and chief executive officer.

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