Little League World Series broadcasts are all grown up
Stephen Keener, Little League’s president and CEO, remembers the first Little League World Series he staffed in 1980, when only the championship game was televised — and not even live — on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.”
Four decades later, broadcasts for the Little League World Series are now all grown up.
This year’s event on ESPN, which concludes Sunday, features two additions that have become part of big-league telecasts: 360-degree 4D replays, which will be used througout the event, and an alternative broadcast on a sister network. While ESPN broadcasts a Wednesday night elimination game in traditional form, ESPN2 will offer a “kidscast,” where two 16-year-old aspiring broadcasters will offer commentary from the booth in Williamsport, Pa.
Networks are increasingly utilizing alternative broadcasts to televise marquee sporting events. The possibilities of providing creative options for coverage — with coaches’ schematic breakdowns, celebrity analysis, etc. — while telecasting live events are endless, said Mark Gross, ESPN’s senior vice president for production and remote events. The strategy lends itself to outside-the-box thinking. The College Football Playoff national championship “Megacast,” for example, allowed viewers to choose from a buffet of assorted analysts and camera angles on more than a dozen ESPN outlets.
Gross believes the appetite for alternative broadcasts is growing. From a baseball standpoint, ESPN has televised the last two MLB Home Run Derbys with “statcast” presentations on sister networks. The 2018 version on ESPNews drew 330,000 viewers compared to 5.6 million on ESPN. This year’s version had 850,000 on ESPN2, while the main network drew 5.3 million.
This year’s event on ESPN features two additions that have become part of big-league telecasts: 360-degree 4D replays and an alternative broadcast on a sister network.
“The beauty of it is we can do anything, and there are no rules,” Gross said. “We’re coming up with ideas sitting around at lunch. I definitely think there is room to grow, there is room to experiment. … This place was built on taking risks and innovation. As we steamroll to our 40th anniversary, this is just another example of innovation, and who knows where it goes.”
Brainstorming for the “kidscast” began more than four months ago, as Gross and others — with input from Keener — sought to attract a young audience that essentially could watch the telecast through the eyes of their peers.
Gross then reached out to veteran New York City-area broadcaster Bruce Beck, who pinpointed talented teenagers at his summer broadcasting camp at Iona College. The play-by-play for the Aug. 21 game will be called by Eddie Kalegi and Aiden Blanc. Two 15-year-olds, Zoe Alter and Rahill Jaiswal, will offer sideline reporting potentially on everything from tasty food options to kids’ antics on the hill beyond the outfield fence. What’s more, Mo’ne Davis, the 2014 Little League World Series pitching phenom, will be on hand to provide analysis and perspective from her Williamsport experience.
The feed for the game will be the same on both networks, but the ESPN2 broadcast will look different graphically, with multiple camera shots on the screen. One thing is certain: Having two national networks telecasting a game will mark quite a contrast from what Keener recalls four decades ago when he was the assistant public relations director.
“I’ve seen the television coverage evolve a lot over four decades,” Keener said laughing. “Oh, no, I never would have envisioned this.”