Coronavirus Shocks the Sports Industry, A Series:
Part 2: What are big media companies doing now?
by KENDALL HUNT
With the rapid spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus, millions of people and businesses worldwide have been affected, prompting closures, stay-at-home orders and worker layoffs.
While international industries such as healthcare, food and transportation have been impacted by the virus, sports media has also taken one of the hardest blows.
Since the outbreak, cancellations hammered nearly every sport starting March 12. MLB canceled all spring training games and delayed the start of the season by two weeks. The NBA and NHL seasons were suspended. MLS halted its season for 30 days. Several professional tennis tournaments were cancelled, including the Miami Open, Fed Cup and Wimbledon, which was cancelled April 1.
The cancellations even extended to collegiate sports with the NCAA’s announcement to suspend all winter and spring championships, including the widely watched men’s and women’s March Madness basketball tournaments. Unfortunately, those listed were just some of the hundreds of events and sports seasons that were halted by the virus.
“Certainly, the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved is of greatest importance. There is no doubt that the current crisis is disrupting the sports media landscape in ways once unimagined,” said Jeff Krolik, president of FOX Sports Regional Networks, in an email. “But no matter what happens, there will always be an appetite for sports on television, whether it’s a live or a classic game.”
Sports channels such as Fox Sports and ESPN, without live sporting events to stream, have resorted to using old footage of games or lesser-known sports such as rock skipping, sign flipping, juggling and many more.
“FOX Sports Midwest is the home of the Cardinals, Blues, Royals, Sporting KC and Pacers,” said Geoff Goldman, the senior director of communications for FOX Sports Midwest, via email. “Until live sports return, we’re airing games from the past, which we hope serve as a diversion and remind fans of moments that brought our community together.”
Likewise, ESPN is airing replays of historical moments in sports daily on its channels and website. In addition to re-runs, ESPN announced March 31 that the premiere of “The Last Dance,” a 10-part documentary series, will air on ESPN Sunday nights at 9 p.m. from April 19 to May 17 in the United States.
The series will feature the stories of the greatest icons in sports history, including Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls team, as well as never-before-seen footage from the Bulls’ 1997-98 season as they pursued their sixth NBA championship title within eight years.
“As society navigates this time without live sports, viewers are still looking to the sports world to escape and enjoy a collective experience. We’ve heard the calls from fans asking us to move up the release date for this series, and we’re happy to announce that we’ve been able to accelerate the production schedule to do just that,” ESPN said in a released statement. “This project celebrates one of the greatest players and dynasties ever, and we hope it can serve as a unifying entertainment experience to fill the role that sports often play in our lives, telling a story that will captivate everyone, not just sports fans.”
Other companies such as Maven Media Brands, who own the printing rights for Sports Illustrated Magazine, have turned to mobile platforms to keep the sports world alive. According to the company’s website, Maven announced the launch of its new podcast “Coronavirus + Sports” on March 26. The podcast, free to the general public, features sports figures, athletes and experts from Sports Illustrated sharing daily stories of how those in the sporting field are responding to the unprecedented event that has halted sports worldwide.
“Sports Illustrated has a long history of covering people whose lives revolve around sports, and while the games may have stopped, those lives and the importance of sports continues,” said Scott Brody, SI executive producer, in a released statement. “We feel it is our duty to continue telling their stories in a deeply personal and compelling way.”
Sports fans alike have enjoyed the intuitive programs and re-runs, but are eager for live events to return soon. However, with continuous postponements and no clear flattening of the curve, there is uncertainty over when the quarantine can be safely lifted.
“We are monitoring the situation,” Krolik said. “We will continue our dialogue with our partners – the leagues, teams and video providers – as the RSNs have in the past when games have been delayed or not played.”