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Little League World Series, ESPN catch lightning in a bottle

The great story lines of this year's Little League World Series provide an unexpected boon for ESPN.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
(Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)

In mid-August, sports fans are limited to the dog days of major league baseball, college and pro football preseason camps . . . and, this year, the latest Johnny Football news. And while we collectively wait for the MLB playoff races to heat up and regular season football to kick off, a one-of-a-kind hardballer has captured the spotlight from the professionals. Mo’ne Davis, star of the Mid-Atlantic region’s representative in the Little League World Series, has quickly become one of the biggest stories in sports.

(AP Photo/PennLive.com, Sean Simmers)
(AP Photo/PennLive.com, Sean Simmers)

The Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., comes along every August. A female flamethrower, who mows down the boys in her age group, comes along once. That’s why Williamsport and ESPN, the event’s broadcast rights holder, has caught lightning in a bottle with Davis and her exploits.

Families make the pilgrimage to Williamsport by the tens of thousands regardless of the tournament’s participants, as it’s truly a bucket-list sporting event. But having stories like Mo’ne Davis and her team from Philadelphia, as well as the all African-American team from the south side of Chicago competing deep into the tournament, brings a heightened level of buzz to the broadcast.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Last summer, ESPN signed an eight-year extension to broadcast the Little League World Series for about $7.5 million a year. The network has already gotten a great return with this year’s event. Pennsylvania’s win over Texas drew a bigger overnight rating than the “Sunday Night Baseball” broadcast, without Mo’ne Davis pitching. She takes the mound Wednesday in prime time against the undefeated team from Nevada in what’s sure to carry the night in sports television.

8/21 Update: Last night’s game drew 34,128 spectators and earned a 3.42 overnight rating, making it the most-watched Little League game ever on ESPN. The Angels-Red Sox matchup on ESPN2 at the same time drew a .3 rating.

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