Rick Alessandri (back row, far left) announced Kissimmee as the host city for the Prospects Cup
Every year, a slew of young athletes, parents, media members, and plenty of others descend on the small town of South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The tournament that takes place there, the Little League World Series, is a well-known and cherished event on the sports calendar. The combination of the athletes’ youth, national media attention, and sponsorship dollars make the tournament one-of-a-kind. For now, anyway.
Inspired by the LLWS, Univision Deportes on Tuesday announced a new entry to the youth sports tournament catalog: the Prospects Cup. Only this time, it’ll be soccer, not baseball, that will be the sport of choice.
“When you get to the Little League World Series, you see this amazing little community in central Pennsylvania come together and host kids from all over the world,” said Univision Executive Vice President Rick Alessandri. “The more we thought about it, the more we got excited to bring soccer into that.”
But unlike the Little League World Series, which built up popularity slowly over time, the Prospects Cup will start off looking to make a splash immediately. The inaugural edition will take place this December as a 16-team, U-12 boys tournament. The tournament will be broadcast in Spanish on Univision Deportes, with English-language coverage planned for digital platforms. There will be an opening draw ceremony, and a sponsorship structure similar to that of the FIFA World Cup (albeit on a much smaller scale).
And it will all take place in Kissimmee, Florida; a suburb of Orlando that allowed Alessandri and the team at Univision to customize the look and feel of the tournament from the ground up.
“We had a lot of great cities participating in the bidding process for the tournament,” Alessandri said. “In Kissimmee, we liked the blank canvas. We could build a temporary stadium to spec for the tournament.”
In that stadium, as in the Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, the game played will look slightly different than that of the pros. Details on rules and regulations are still being ironed out, but Alessandri says the games will likely feature either seven or nine players per side, a smaller field, and 25-35 minute halves.
And then there’s the matter of getting clubs to participate. The tournament’s plans call for eight domestic teams and eight international teams, which will be invited by a selection committee headed by Univision Deportes president Juan Carlos Rodriguez. The committee has already reached out to MLS academy teams as well as some of the biggest names in the world of soccer, Alessandri says, but the search will also go deeper than that.
“We want to find clubs that may not have national attention, but have a great story,” he said. “When you think about the Little League World Series, you think about some of the great stories that come out of that. The Mo’ne Davises of the world. The the result of the game is just one piece of what we’re trying to build.”
In fact, Alessandri can sum up what he hopes the Prospects Cup can be in a single phrase: “A global cultural event.” The goal is that, through soccer, kids from around the world can interact with each other, share each other’s cultures, and learn more about the world around them through the competition. There will be an athlete’s lounge at the tournament where exchanges like this can take place, and a community in Kissimmee that Alessandri says is excited to facilitate them.
The question facing Univision Deportes, then, is a simple one. With so many many overlapping goals for this first-year event, can the Prospects Cup be successful? Alessandri doesn’t see why not.
“It’s worked for nearly 70 years for the folks at Williamsport,” he said.
Photo courtesy of Univision