The Sports Professor’s Weekly Sports and Entertainment Dollar
By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
August 15, 2014
As School Starts, So Does Pop Warner, and the Little League World Series
This weekend, as noted by these avid viewers of CNN’s excellent miniseries “The Sixties,” marks the 45th anniversary of Woodstock.
While that’s hard to believe, especially for those of us who refuse to acknowledge that we’ve reached middle age, our days of being considered counterculture are long past, and our vinyl collections are in fact collectors’ items, here’s a factoid that’s even harder to fathom: the Little League World Series, now being brought to you in HD on multiple ESPN channels, is 75.
As schools nationwide open up for business once again, youth sports fields are busy places. In Williamsport, PA, the Little League World Series marks the televised culmination of the youth baseball season. And on football fields nationwide, Pop Warner football and cheer are just getting started.
On June 6, 1939, the first Little League game was played in Williamsport. According to SportsBusiness Journal, a $30 donation was sufficient to buy uniforms for each of the first three teams, named after their sponsors: Lycoming Dairy, Lundy Lumber, and Jumbo Pretzel.
By 1947, 11 teams participated in the first Little League World Series, then known as the National Little League Tournament. The LLWS was first televised in 1953 on CBS, and by 1985, ABC carried the LLWS championship game live. (A miniature camera is mounted on the mask of the home plate umpire, a broadcast first.) Coverage moved to ESPN in 2001, and in their latest deal last year, Little League and ESPN agreed to an eight-year extension worth approximately $76 million through 2022.
LLWS Sponsors include Ace, Bomb Pop, Kellogg’s, Honda, New Era, Oakley, and Subway. And last week, Canon formally announced the launch of its multiyear partnership with Little League International, becoming the official camera and printer sponsor of Little League Baseball and Softball. Brand ambassadors are on hand at the LLWS, using the company’s cameras to take photos and post them on a "Great Wall of Fandom."
Best Buy has agreed to partner with Canon to lend on-site support at the LLWS batting cage installation. And sporting goods manufacturer Easton has announced that it will again supply equipment at the Little League World Series, including bats, batter’s gloves, helmets, catcher’s gear, backpacks, and cleats.
The LLWS may be 75, but Pop Warner still has a decade on it.
From its origins in 1929, Pop Warner Little Scholars is a shining example of academic and athletic excellence, committed to establishing leagues that promote a lifelong passion for teamwork, trust, friendship, and commitment. As the association kicks off its 2014 season, Pop Warner youth football leagues are helping kids learn important life-long lessons, on and off the field.
“Pop Warner is in great shape,” said Jon Butler, Pop Warner Executive Director, during an appearance this week on Rick’s Yahoo Sports Radio show. “Our kids started practice on August 1, and they’re out there now running around and having a great time.”
As concerns about sports-related concussions mount, Pop Warner is motivated to provide a safe place for boys and girls to play tackle and flag football, and to cheer.
“There are certainly always naysayers about any sport, particularly football since it’s the king of the hill these days in terms of participation and viewership numbers and attendance at games,” Butler acknowledges. “Football is not going to go away – it will continue to evolve, and we’ve shown our willingness to try and lead some of football’s safety concerns, most recently with significant rules changes and policies in 2010-2012. We initiate rules to try and make the game as safe as we possibly can as the game evolves.”
Noting a study done last winter at Virginia Tech that found that over the course of a season, Pop Warner players experienced almost 50% fewer blows to the head in practice vs. non Pop Warner teams. “We know our program is as safe as we can make it,” Butler emphasized, “and we will continue to evolve with that.”
Pop Warner currently has about 250,000 young football players ages 5-15. The core group is “tweens” 8-12 years of age. Another 100,000 cheerleaders and dancers participate in more than 1,100 combined Pop Warner programs around the country, all of which field multiple football teams and multiple cheer squads.
The Pop Warner regular season kicks off over the next 2-3 weeks, regional championships will be held around Thanksgiving, and the season culminates with the Pop Warner Super Bowl and national Cheer and Dance Championships held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World in Orlando the first week of December. Butler estimates that over 10,000 boys and girls participate in events at Disney over eight days. (Add in their families and the event is a major economic driver in the region during an otherwise slow stretch between major holidays.)
On the local level, Pop Warner is run completely by volunteer board members; carefully screened, trained, and certified coaches; and parents, all of whom are dedicated to furthering the goals of the Pop Warner community.
In June, Pop Warner announced a licensing partnership with NFL Players Inc., the licensing and marketing arm of the NFL Players Association. Together, they will create officially licensed co-branded products featuring active NFL players.
More than 70% of 1,800 active NFL players competed on Pop Warner teams around the country, including current players such as Peyton Manning, Richard Sherman, Andrew Luck, and Colin Kaepernick. That football legacy will be highlighted through a broad scope of NFLPI licensed co-branded apparel and merchandise including jerseys, trading cards, mobile game characters, toys, sporting goods, and Pop Warner uniforms.
"A licensing partnership with NFL Players Inc. is a natural extension, since hundreds of active NFL players began their football careers playing Pop Warner,” Butler said. “We look forward to the many opportunities this relationship will provide to celebrate the incredible passion of football fans and players, from the youth level to the NFL."
If Butler could change one thing about youth sports today, it would be improved parental awareness. “Parents need to be more aware, and they need to have realistic expectations” he emphasized. “The number of academic scholarship dollars vs. sports scholarship dollars is about 150-1. The chance of getting even one of those athletic scholarships is really, really limited. So, if you’re going to push your child, encourage them to be active. Encourage them to play sports if they like sports.
“But more than anything, get them to work hard in school.”
Wise words for parents, students, and fans everywhere, as we all get ready to start another school year.
Follow Rick Horrow (@RickHorrow) and Karla Swatek (@kswak) on Twitter.