Little League Board of Directors Profile: Jon Litner
Sports played an important role in Jon Litner’s childhood. At a young age he aspired to play the sport he loved the most, baseball, as long as he could, even possibly as far as a professional career.
When he realized baseball would come to an end after lettering as a catcher at Yale University, Mr. Litner was able to turn his love of sports into a successful career. He has worked for ABC Sports, the Baseball Network, the National Hockey League and launched SportsNet New York (SNY) with the New York Mets. Today, Mr. Litner is the Group President for the NBC Sports Group where he is responsible for all business and content for NBC Sports Group’s 14 regional networks and the Golf Channel.
However, it was his passion for the game of baseball that started when he was playing Little League in his hometown of Peabody, Mass., that led him to accepting a position on the Little League International Board of Directors in 2006.
“I’ve had a lifelong passion for the game of baseball and a strong desire to teach children about the benefits of teamwork, exercise and competition through playing baseball,” Mr. Litner, who now resides in Villanova, Pa., said. “Little League strives to develop a sense of personal fulfillment and foster leadership, character, loyalty and courage, all of which is broader than simple athletic excellence.”
Mr. Litner, who also lettered at Yale in football and played for College Football Hall of Fame coach Carm Cozza, also credited his early years in baseball with helping him find the position that best fit him.
“I remember starting out in Little League playing shortstop, then moving over to pitcher, before finally learning to play catcher, and falling in love with that position,” Mr. Litner said.
A 1985 graduate of Yale, Mr. Litner earned his legal degree from the Cornell University Law School in 1988. He began his career in sports television by putting his law degree to work as the general attorney for Capital Cities/ABC, Inc., handling business affairs for ABC Sports and serving as lead counsel on all major programming acquisitions and talent negotiations.
Mr. Litner joined Baseball Network in 1994 as Vice President of Baseball Affairs before returning to ABC as Vice President of Programming in 1995. In that position, Mr. Litner was responsible for overseeing college sports, motorsports, boxing and Wide World of Sports programming.
In 1998, he was promoted to Senior Vice President of Programming, and was responsible for the acquisition, scheduling and promotion of more than 500 hours of ABC Sports programming, playing a leading role in the creation of college football’s Bowl Championship Series.
The following year, Mr. Litner joined the National Hockey League as its Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. He worked at the NHL until 2005, when he took over as President of SNY, the television home of Major League Baseball’s New York Mets.
Prior to his role with the NBC Sports Group, Mr. Litner was President of the Comcast Sports Group, overseeing all phases of operation for 14 regional networks, seven of which reside in the top 10 television markets in the country.
A three-time recipient of Sports Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40” Sports Executive Award, Mr. Litner believes sports will continue to play an important role for America’s youth, but he has some concerns.
“Compromising the team spirit of the game, and the enjoyment that comes from learning sports, by placing too much emphasis on winning at a young age is a concern for me,” Mr. Litner said. “Kids should be able to have fun and hone their skills without the added pressure of having to win every game.”
While several new Little League programs and initiatives have been created during the time he has served on the Board of Directors, it’s the way the board is able to institute new ideas while keeping with the mission of the organization, which has been the same since the first game was played in 1939, that makes Mr. Litner feel Little League belongs at the top of all youth sports organization.
“Being a part of a team that makes an effort to create a balance between fostering an atmosphere for children to fall in love with the game of baseball/softball, while at the same time always putting safety first by instituting rules, such as the pitch count, bat regulations, etc.,” Mr. Litner said in talking about what he is most proud of as a member of the Little League Board of Directors.
As a sports television executive for more than 20 years, Mr. Litner has seen and attended many of the most prominent sporting events in the world. Yet, one of the memories that has stuck with him through all of his experiences was a trip to the Little League Baseball World Series.
“I remember going to my first World Series in Williamsport and being struck by the incredible celebration of youth baseball,” Mr. Litner said. “It was a slice of youth Americana and everything was about the kids. It was an amazing experience.”
Mr. Litner and his wife, Polly, have been married for 18 years. They have three children, sons Michael and David, and daughter Jenna.