Being a part of a Little League World Series is one of the greatest experiences in all of youth sports. Expanding the Little League Baseball World Series and the Little League Softball World Series gives many more kids everywhere this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity each summer. Nothing comes close to the feeling of representing your home community on the grandest stage for the world to see. From players to coaches to volunteers, this expansion will allow more players, volunteers, and families in our program to experience something they will remember forever.
Little League is an 80-year-old institution, and as we’re coming up on the historic 75th Little League Baseball World Series in 2021, we felt that this was the time was right to expand. The last expansion was 20 years ago when the Little League Baseball World Series moved to 16 teams in 2001. As we continue to try and find ways to improve the Little League experience for children around the world, we have found that there’s room to grow and provide more Little Leaguers each year with the opportunity of a lifetime. For eight decades, Little League has celebrated our history, while also looking toward the future. In order to make the expansion possible in 2021, we will need to start on a number of facility upgrades and improvements that will make the Little League World Series experience more memorable for fans, players, coaches, and other volunteers immediately after the conclusion of the 2019 Little League World Series. While more details will be made available over the coming months, the exciting future of our iconic events are set to begin after the last pitch of this year’s World Series in Williamsport!
In addition to the expansion, the Little League International Board of Directors approved a series of facilities improvements to the Little League International Complex in South Williamsport, Pa., including the addition of dormitories, as well as improved infirmary and laundry facilities, to accommodate the additional teams. It has been more than 20 years since the Little League International Complex has undertaken any significant improvements, and we will look to enhance the fan experience through improved parking, restrooms, gift shop, and other areas. Little League International will also work with the future location of the Little League Softball World Series to fully accommodate for the expansion of the Little League Softball World Series. The overall project to enhance facilities is estimated to cost $15 million. To finance the facility improvements and expansion, Little League will utilize reserved funds to ensure there is no financial impact to local Little League programs.
In 2016, when Little League International restructured its teenage divisions, we began to actively discuss and evaluate providing more opportunities for younger participants in the Little League International Tournament, either through additional levels of play at the 8- to 10-year-old and 9- to 11-year-old tournaments for both baseball and softball, or through expanding the number of teams at our Little League Baseball and Softball World Series tournaments. Since that time, the Little League International Board of Directors formed an Ad Hoc committee to discuss the opportunity of expansion. Through detailed research and planning, this committee recommended the expansion of both the Little League Baseball World Series and Little League Softball World Series so more kids could experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Little League has been a fabric of local communities for 80 years, providing life-long lessons for our youth both on and off the field. Participation has never been, nor ever will be the sole metric of how we are perceived. We place great emphasis on, and are proud of, Little League’s ability to strengthen communities and provide opportunities for kids to play the game they love with their friends and neighbors. Our program and the values that it is created upon remains strong and very relevant. The expansion of the Little League Baseball World Series and Little League Softball World Series is all about providing more kids the chance to live their dreams of playing in the most respected tournaments in youth sports. If participation numbers or the number of teams increases because of the expansion, we’ll embrace that growth, but that is not the focus of our expansion. Adding positive World Series experiences is.
Little League International remains committed to finding new ways to encourage participation in our program and will continue to work with our volunteers on developing opportunities and making the games of baseball and softball more accessible for all children.
The proposed regional alignments for the expansions were determined to provide local Little League programs in all of our regions with more opportunities to qualify for the Little League World Series based on Little League’s regional structure, geographical proximity, and partially based on the number of affiliated teams in each state, country, and region. Little League International has, and will continue to, evaluate its regional alignments in every division of the Little League program on an annual basis to provide an equal and fair opportunity to all its local leagues.
Little League Baseball: The Little League Baseball World Series expansion will add two additional teams from the United States and two international teams to increase the total number of participating teams to 20 starting in 2021. The United States field will establish two new regions with the Metro Region and the Mountain Region, effectively dividing the East and West Regions, respectively, into three sub-regions at the Little League Baseball division. On the International side, a three-year rotation for direct entry into the Little League Baseball World Series will be established between Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Panama with two teams earning an automatic bid to the tournament each year and the remaining team competing through its respective regional tournament. The order for that rotation will be determined at the annual Little League Baseball World Series Luncheon held in June 2020.
Little League Softball: The Little League Softball World Series expansion will add two more teams from the United States to the participating field, growing the total number of teams to 12 starting in 2021. The current Little League Softball World Series East Region will be divided into the Mid-Atlantic and New England Regions, and the current West Region will be divided into the Northwest and West Regions.
The regional alignments for all seven of Little League’s World Series tournaments are determined based on the number of participating leagues in each state, country, and region to provide local leagues with many more opportunities to qualify for the Little League World Series. After careful consideration, the Little League International Ad Hoc expansion committee recommended to not expand Little League Softball internationally but provide more opportunities where the number of Little League Softball programs continue to thrive. While we continue to find ways to grow the game on an international scale, there are no plans at this time to expand Little League Softball internationally. Little League International has historically, and will always, assess regional alignments each year to ensure all states have a fair opportunity to reach our World Series events.
The overall project to enhance facilities is estimated to cost $15 million. To finance the facility improvements and expansion, Little League will utilize reserved funds to ensure there is no financial impact to local Little League programs. Our dedication to providing support to our local leagues through Grow the Game grant programs, low affiliation fees, and educational resources will continue to thrive and hopefully expand and the support from all of our partners and official sponsors is stronger today than it has ever been. Financial support from Little League’s Official Sponsors and ESPN will continue to be used to support local leagues around the world and grow the program.
The International Tournament will not start earlier. Regular seasons, vital to the Little League experience, should not be impacted. We are dedicated to our commitment to make Little League affordable and accessible for all. Financial support through the Little League Grow the Game grant program and sponsor initiatives will continue. The only way local leagues will be impacted by this project is that more Little Leaguers now have the opportunity to live their dream of playing in a Little League World Series.
For eight decades, Little League has been the quintessential leader in youth sports. Little League provides the best baseball, softball, and life-lesson experiences for children in local communities throughout the world, and we have always believed that the more kids putting on a uniform and grabbing a bat and glove, the better. Youth baseball and softball will continue to be strong. Little League’s expansion simply allows more kids in our program the opportunity to participate in the very best youth baseball and softball have to offer.
Little League International looked at team numbers in each of the divisional tournaments, and the impact any expansion would have on the overall tournament schedule. After careful consideration, it was determined that an additional two teams in softball and four teams in baseball was the optimal number of teams, so that there would be an impact on local and regional tournaments. Expanding by more teams would have led to a significant increase to the World Series tournament schedules.
No. Playing just one game at any of our World Series tournaments would not provide enough of the once-in-a-lifetime experience Little League players and their families deserve. With the expansion, some baseball teams will be randomly assigned a “bye” game, to fit into a modified double-elimination schedule. As customary, both the Little League Baseball World Series and the Little League Softball World Series will offer consolation and crossover games opportunities, so all players will have plenty of opportunities to make memories that will last a lifetime and compete against teams from around the world.
Little League Baseball and Softball values the support from all of our partners, and, as we have always done, we will continue to work closely with them to provide a level of unmatched experience for kids at each of our Little League World Series events. Our primary focus at our World Series tournaments, and every level of our program, is to provide a positive experience no other youth sports program can come close to. With valued support from our partners, that committed effort will continue.
Little League continues to have a great relationship with ESPN, and we value the opportunity it gives in showcasing our World Series tournaments for local communities throughout the world to see. As we have done throughout our partnership, Little League will work closely with ESPN to endeavor that these opportunities continue to be made available on a variety of broadcast platforms each summer.
Little League has an outstanding relationship with the Williamsport community, and we’re proud to have the city we were founded in, and have always called home, host the Little League Baseball World Series each summer. We will continue to work with city officials and community leaders to provide visitors from around the world with an experience of a lifetime. With the Little League Baseball World Series starting a day earlier, we’ll work closely with Williamsport on all events, as well as the arrival of U.S. and international teams to make the experience memorable for all who come to the Little League Baseball World Series.
The most important impact the 2021 expansion will have on local leagues is that there will be more opportunities for more teams to participate. The heart of the expansion is simply to provide more children and volunteers with a once-in-a-lifetime experience at our World Series events at the Little League division. The International tournament, our Regional tournaments, and our regular seasons, which are vital to the Little League experience, will not start earlier.
Little Leaguers throughout the world cherish playing the game they love with their friends, classmates, and neighbors, and they dream of experiencing that on the grandest stage. From our first World Series tournament in 1947 to today, Little Leaguers and their families have shared with us just how special our events are, and we’re proud and excited to offer even more kids a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The fun and friendly spotlight that shines on our World Series events each year is something participating Little League families will remember forever.