Earlier this week, Martin Donovan, director of Delaware District III, Senior and Big League Softball World Series, gave Sussex County Council an overview of the 2014 series, which was held in early August.
“By all accounts, it was a success, including the rain,” said Donovan on Sept. 30. “Little League International has nine World Series — we have two of them in Sussex County.”
Donovan told the council that the Big League World Series has young ladies ages 14 to 18 participating, while the Senior League has those between 13 and 16 competing.
Donovan said the 2014 series was special in many ways, especially regarding the numerous anniversaries celebrated.
“This year was a special year because it was the 75th anniversary of Little League and the 40th anniversary for Softball, and our 11th year hosting the World Series in Sussex County.”
Six of the games were broadcast on national TV via ESPN, and although Donovan did not yet have the ratings for this year’s games, he said last year’s broadcasts brought in a million viewers.
“I’ve been told the viewing will be down this year because of two Delaware teams in the finals, but remains to be seen,” he said. “During the broadcast, they mentioned Delaware and Sussex County a lot. After each half-inning when they came back, they always said where they were and talked about the area we were in.”
Donovan estimated that of the six games broadcast, with 14 half-innings during which Sussex County was discussed, Sussex County received at least $420,000 worth of national TV exposure.
“That’s not a bad return on the investment we make on this event,” he said, adding that Delaware Tourism estimated the Series generated $2.4 million in revenue in the state.
Donovan told the council that, in terms of monies used, the committee spent $150,000 on housing, $48,000 on food and $20,000 on transportation.
“The vendors were in Milford, Georgetown, Ocean View, Laurel and Millsboro. We spent money throughout the county. I don’t think a lot of people know this, but Little League International provided $190,000 to this event last year. It is a big event.”
Councilman Vance Phillips asked Donovan what the committee sees as its biggest challenge going forward.
“Housing,” responded Donovan, stating that both the cost and reserving housing in time for the games has been an issue in the past. “Last year, in May, we weren’t sure we could house them all. It was tight. We had one team not show. It took a lot of pressure off. This year, we pretty much had rooms reserved, but that is our biggest problem.”
Councilman George Cole asked if they could work with other organizations to reserve homes for the athletes.
“Maybe there is a possibility that someone could donate their home, beach house. The trouble is it’s prime rental season for a lot of these houses. But if they got a tax benefit from it, it may be something worth pursuing,” he said.
“In the very beginning, when Josh Freeman was alive, he provided all the housing. He rented 20, 25 houses every year to put these young ladies up, at his expense,” replied Donovan.
Aside from monetary donations, Donovan said the event wouldn’t have been possible without the community’s involvement.
“Every league in Sussex County provides volunteers during the week — approximately 200 people.”
Donovan thanked outside groups, such as Beebe Healthcare, which provided trainers for the athletes, ambulance and paramedic crews, the Delaware State Police and the Roxana Volunteer Fire Company.
The World Series host 20 teams from the U.S. and foreign countries, playing a total of 54 games in seven days. Players aren’t the only participants who travel, as 24 umpires pay their way to referee the games.
“This event brings people from all over the world to Sussex County,” he said.
Donovan said that, although economic times have been getting better, it is still difficult to raise funds. He thanked the council, Carl M. Freeman Foundation, Nicola Pizza and Discover Bank for sponsoring the series, as well as Delmarva Cleaners for their in-kind sponsorship.
“When these girls play, somebody has to clean. They clean 340 uniforms every night — picked them up at midnight and had them back before they played the next day. They did that as a donation.”
Donovan said that, in calculating monetary and in-kind donations, it takes approximately $300,000 to hold the event.
“That’s why it’s important that you are giving your support to this World Series. All of us are investors of some sort to the World Series.”
Although economic impact is an important aspect of holding the Series in Sussex County, Donovan said it is by no means the most important.
“That’s not the greatest reward for me and the committee. It is our job to provide a memorable moment for a lifetime to the 340 young ladies and 60 managers and coaches that come to the World Series.
“In May every year, there are 300,000 girls trying to go to World Series. The World Series is something they work very hard to achieve, and it is our job to make it a memory for a lifetime.”
In closing, Donovan thanked the council for their past and future support of the series.
“It’s a great opportunity for our young people who haven’t yet had a chance to travel, to meet these folks from all over the world,” said Councilwoman Joan Deaver. “It’s a real education in itself.”
“Thank you for all you and your committee do,” added Council President Michael Vincent. “It’s a great event. It’s something that Sussex County is very proud of.”