At Little League® International in Williamsport, Pa., and at our Regional Offices, calls and emails come in all year long about different situations that are happening at some of our 7,000 local leagues. Many of these calls and emails inform us of some very positive initiatives spearheaded by our millions of volunteers. However, there are also negative situations.
“Don’t Let This Happen to Your League” details a real-world scenario, how it has impacted a league, and how you might learn from it.
The names have been omitted in the following scenario, but the situation is real.
The manager of a regular-season Little League® team is approached by the owner of the team’s sponsor and asks if the team would be interested in appearing in a commercial that the business is filming. The business owner, whose son plays on the team and is friends with the manager, thought this would be fun for the players, and assumed that showing the children in their Little League uniforms on advertisements would be good for business, and provide positive exposure for the league. After getting approval from the players’ parents, the commercial is filmed and, weeks later, the team makes its television debut as the commercial is broadcast during the local news. Later that same night, the League President gets a call from the District Administrator (D.A.) asking who gave permission for the team to participate in the filming.
Having no knowledge of the arrangement and without seeing the commercial, the League President proceeds to call the team manager to get the details. After talking to the team manager, the League President follows up with the D.A. to explain that according to the manager, he “just worked it out” with the business owner/league sponsor. On a Saturday afternoon following a game, the team traveled to the nearby business, in uniform, and “read a line.” In return, the players were given dinner and some gift certificates from the business. Neither the League President nor the Board of Directors knew about the commercial and confirmed that the Board did not vote to give permission for the team to take part in the filming.
On the advice of the District Administrator, the team manager and the owner of the business were asked to a special meeting of the local league’s executive committee, which the D.A. attended. At that time, the arrangement was explained to all parties. During the meeting, the District Administrator made it clear that the team appearing in a commercial is a violation of Little League Regulation XIII, as well as, several of Little League’s trademark usage polices. The team manager and sponsor/business owner admitted they acted alone, and did not consider there would be any issue, since the parents all agreed to allow their children to be in the commercial. Despite the lack of intent by the adults and perceived permissions, Little League rules and regulations were violated, and each child’s amateur status was put at risk by receiving the meal and merchandise for their appearances.
The D.A. instructed the business owner to have the commercial removed from the local television channel’s advertising rotation and destroyed; the Board of Directors reminded the manager of Little League rules; and the business owner, upset over the loss of the advertisement, pulled his sponsorship from the league. The Board of Directors was also instructed to add specific language to its local league bylaws regarding the procedures for reviewing all annual local league and team sponsorship, and marketing initiatives.
It is common for local businesses to take pride in their support of a neighborhood Little League(s). Many communities have had the same league and team sponsors for several years, however such relationships do not warrant special privileges when it comes to the use of the Little League name, trademarks, or any of its participants. Many times a year, Little League International is contacted by entertainment companies that may or may not be sponsors of the league for local Little League “talent” to appear in television programming and commercials. If a local league receives such an inquiry, either from a local or regional production company, or a network affiliate, these contacts are to be shared first with the District Administrator, and then the regional office, and Little League International as warranted. All questions regarding trademarks or the presentation and appearance of Little Leaguers in the media can be answered by speaking with your District Administrator, regional office, or the Marketing and Communications Departments at Little League International in Williamsport, Pa. And, remember, Little League International must approve any commercial or promotional activity that involves a local Little League program, uses the Little League trademarks, or features the Little League patch.