In the 2011 Little League World Series, an increased reliance on social media has made the experience larger than ever.
The Little League World Series is simply a product of its own time; an era in which the players, parents, fans and media unite online to produce social simulation and intensely driven content in a high-speed online pursuit. Now that the demand for the product is at an all-time high, the LLWS is facing a future that it never expected to reach.
As event exposure increases, the product has drastically changed to a game in which over a dozen cameras are present—every moment is an opportunity to zoom in on the face of a crying pitcher that was just removed from the game. Now, more than ever before, fans at home can join along online and immerse themselves in the journey of these young athletes.
For those that enjoy the ability to follow and discuss these games online, they have a little something called social media to thank.
Merriam-Webster defines “social media” as a form of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share ideas, personal messages, videos and other content. They site the first year that the word originated as 2004, meaning that the idea itself is relatively new and emerged long after the inaugural year of the Little League World Series in 1947.
Since the predominant rise of social media, Little League World Series television ratings have seen a notable spike. According to BizOfBaseball.com, the 1.05 million viewers that the ESPN opening weekend telecast drew in 2009 was a 60 percent increase from the previous year alone.
The site goes on to state that ESPN2 has received an even greater boost in viewers, as their telecast had increased from 514,000 viewers in 2008 to 1,219,000 viewers in 2009. That’s a 130 percent increase on the secondary ESPN channel.
The most notable spike in viewers, however, came online.
The opening weekend broadcast on ESPN360.com drew in a total of 545 percent more hours watched in 2009 than in 2008. While people sit at home on their computers, updating their Facebook statuses, it might be easier to watch the game online as well.
As social media has flooded the Little League World Series (88,902 people "like" the ESPN Little League World Series on Facebook), athletes are beginning to notice the rise of the phenomenon as well.
This year, my local Little League Westchester Del Rey was fortunate enough to send their softball team to the Little League Softball World Series. Fans from across our city were able to follow along due to the Facebook statuses of Coach Mike Dolan and his players.
“Back home! Thanks to all our friends and families who supported us. My girls were great, they have worked their buts off!!! We have played 27 games in 64 days, have had over 35 practices (10 practices the morning b4 a game) and have been on the road since July 14th! They have played, practiced or traveled 56 out 64 days. So proud of all they accomplished, they are true All-Stars in every sense of the word,” he writes in one status update.
“Facebook was a useful tool to communicate with our friends at home, and keep them up to date with the exciting time in our life,” said Dolan, who has been coaching his children for years now.
The Facebook walls of his players were filled with congratulations and words of support; friends of the players were excited to share their joy of seeing these girls on television.
The girls that were featured in the Little League World Series were also able to remain in communication with the friends they made internationally. Before social media, these girls might have lost contact after the tournament; now, the girls can stay friends for as long as they’d like thanks to the website.
Others took their sentiments to the social media website, Twitter.
Following a home run in the tournament, Caeasar Garcia, of the New Mexico team, stood and watched his home run sail over the fence. After seeing the showmanship, young pitching star Stephen Strasburg took to Twitter and responded to the showboating.
Getting mentioned by Strasburg was more fun than anything for Garcia, however. The young athlete took to Facebook to respond to the recent tweet.
“Strasburg tweeted about me pimpin my home run!!!!!… blahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh epicness," he wrote.
At the end of the day, maybe Strasburg hit the nail on the head with his tweet. It’s a different generation of children. The Little League World Series certainly has changed.
One of the biggest and most defined changes has to be with the impact that social media has had on the players and, more importantly, how the fans consume the game.
With social media growing at the rapid pace that it is, Strasburg should expect the times to continue to change. Websites like Facebook and Twitter are certainly here to stay.
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