ESPN has biggest bargain in sports TV with Little League World Series

My latest column for the Chicago Tribune is on how ESPN hit the jackpot with the Little League World Series.

You also can access the column via my Twitter feed @Sherman_Report.

From the column:


The big winner besides Jackie Robinson West and Mo’Ne Davis at this year’s Little League World Series is ESPN.

The kids provided the network with the best bargain in TV sports this year.

ESPN hit the jackpot with incredible storylines that captivated the country. The combination of a star girl pitcher and an intercity team from Chicago not only generated record ratings for the Little Leaguers, but viewer levels well beyond what their idols in Major League Baseball are delivering this year.

An estimated 5.5 million viewers tuned in Wednesday to see Las Vegas beat Davis’ Philadelphia team on ESPN, shattering an all-time record for the Little League World Series. Then Thursday, nearly 4 million viewers watched Jackie Robinson West beat Pennsylvania on ESPN.

Ratings for the championship games over the weekend on ABC won’t be available until Monday. Since the games were played in the afternoon, they might not be as high as the primetime telecasts on Wednesday and Thursday. But they still should be robust given the following for Jackie Robinson West.

To put it in context, MLB hasn’t generated a comparable rating for a national telecast of a regular-season game on ESPN or Fox this year. It isn’t just baseball. The peak numbers for this year’s Little League World Series would be welcomed by many other college and pro sports during the regular season, if not post season.

Meanwhile in Chicago, where local ratings for the Cubs and White Sox are at historic lows, an estimated 270,000 area households watched Jackie Robinson West’s victory on Thursday. The last time a Chicago baseball team pulled that kind of number was back when fans still had hope manager Lou Piniella would lead the Cubs to the World Series. And just wait for the final Chicago rating tally for the weekend games.

ESPN is the main beneficiary. Last year, the network signed a new eight-year, $60 million extension to air the Little League World Series through 2022. Even though it was more than double the previous pact, it looks like a steal at $7.5 million per year compared to rights fee deals for major sports properties that go deep into the millions, if not billions.



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