Athletes Unlimited will play a doubleheader during the Little League Softball World Series
The GIST: Athletes Unlimited (AU) is taking its softball show on the road. Last Friday, the women’s sports organization announced a doubleheader showdown during August’s Little League Softball World Series in order to promote the sport’s whole ecosystem.
The details: AU players will travel from the Chicago suburbs — where most of the five-week season will take place — to Greenville, N.C. for two games that will air on ESPN2. The org said a Little League crossover event has been in the works since 2019 and is modeled after MLB’s Little League Classic.
- Little League offers a big platform for AU. It will have access to the competition’s IRL audience and visibility with its high-wattage sponsors, while the 12 youth teams competing in N.C. will be able to mingle with the pros.
The context: Baseball is a uniquely popular youth sport in the U.S. — Little League brings in $22M-plus in annual revenue and has an ESPN broadcast deal worth $7.5M a year, but softball is certainly on the rise. Last year’s Little League Softball World Series averaged 294K viewers across ESPN and ESPN2, up 19% YoY.
- 2022’s semifinal was the most watched Little League softball game since 2018 with an average audience of 537K and the tournament saw viewership increase 74% YoY among teens and 30% for women. Home run.
The landscape: AU’s announcement comes during softball’s biggest event — the Women’s College World Series (WCWS). The NCAA tourney already broke its Session 1 attendance record when 12K turned up last Thursday, but the WCWS likely isn’t reaching its full financial potential despite running up the business score last year.
- The 13K-seater USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium is too small to meet IRL demand, and the NCAA’s media availability limits mean ESPN lacks the ability (but not the desire) to share human-interest stories.
Zooming out: There’s potential across softball’s entire landscape to successfully monetize the sport, and AU ’s unity play with Little League demonstrates the appetite for collaboration. The first roadblock to overcome? Venues — few elite softball stadiums exist in the U.S. for college and the pros, and baseball parks don’t exactly cut it. Room for improvement.