Every major sports league around the globe has postponed its season. Massive annual events like the NCAA Tournament were cancelled; the Masters, the Olympics, and the Kentucky Derby were all rescheduled. Millions of fans, readers, commenters, and gamblers now float adrift, completely rudderless without sports leading the way. But no one has been left quite as high and dry in quarantine as the 24-hour sports broadcasting business.
Some sports networks have pulled off moments of magic with some incredibly inventive strokes of genius. Others went down trying. But all of them tried their best! So we’re here to honor the booms and busts from the past 60 days of sports (or lack thereof). Congrats to the nominees!
Best Sports Radio Theme: “Once and For All Week” on 94 WIP
Philadelphia’s sports talk leader is putting some of the city’s most hotly-debated subjects to bed… by debating just one topic per day for a week, and then hopefully never again. The highlight? To close it out, host Joe Giglio will go on the radio and defend former Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler from all attackers (and there will be many) for sixteen straight hours. Stay tuned to see if Kapler calls in to say thank you.
Best Attempt to Lower the Bar: Special Edition of “ESPN 8: The Ocho”
Every August 8th (8/8) since 2017, ESPN has brought a joke from the movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story to life. For 24 hours, the network turns into “ESPN 8: The Ocho,” and exclusively broadcasts sports appropriate for such a low-grade network. In quarantine, ESPN gave The Ocho an extra day to shine, featuring events like sign-spinning, stone skipping, and cornhole.
Most Honest Mistake: FC Seoul
Korean soccer club FC Seoul had the purest of intentions—to make its empty stadium appear more full by placing mannequins in seats around the stadium. Only problem? These weren’t your standard issue mannequins. They were sex dolls, and they were prompty replaced. Unfortunately, the K-League didn’t consider this such an innocent mistake. FC Seoul was fined a record 100 million won (about $80,000) for the mishap.
Best Buy: Ad space for Tiger & Peyton vs. Phil & Brady
Turner’s broadcast of the rematch of the golf titans’ Black Friday 2018 faceoff is expanding by two competitors. NFL legends Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will participate, as well—Peyton will join Tiger, and Brady will play with Phil. Fans aren’t the only ones excited about the match—three weeks before the event is scheduled to take place, Turner has sold out of ad slots for the broadcast.
Biggest GOAT: The Last Dance
For 10 hours across five Sundays, ESPN’s documentary about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls made things feel normal again. The in-depth look at Jordan’s career pulled back the curtain on one of the most fascinating dynasties in sports and highlighted many of the reasons we love watching sports in the first place. Was it perfect? No. At times, It felt like an MJ propaganda piece. Many of Jordan’s teammates, like Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, were disappointed at their portrayals in the doc. And we didn’t learn a whole lot of new stuff about Jordan off the court. But big kudos to ESPN for rushing its release forward by two months to accommodate bored quarantiners.
Most Unexpected Consequence: Tips for UFC fighters
Perhaps the most interesting effect of no-crowd sports came from the UFC in early May. Without fans in the building, the competing fighters could hear the ringside TV broadcasters pretty clearly. A few of them, including Greg Hardy, said they took critiques from the broadcast to heart, made adjustments, and ended up winning their fights because of them.
Best Pivot to Twitch: Head Coach Gus Duggerton
Not only did Barstool blogger Dan Katz’s NCAA Football 14 Twitch stream shoot to the top of the worldwide leaderboards, often becoming the most-watched stream each evening it aired. But he also got pro athletes (like reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes) the social accounts behind the real teams involved in his career mode, like Tennessee and Texas Tech, to tweet as if “Gus Duggerton” was really their head coach.
Best False Hope: The NFL’s three-hour schedule reveal show for “hope”
Thank you for your service, football. On the night of the NFL’s planned release of the 2020 game schedule, the league and ESPN partnered for a three-hour primetime broadcast. ESPN reporter Adam Schefter said the event would highlight “key matchups, schedule flexibility and, ultimately, hope.” So congratulations to the NFL for ending the coronavirus.
Best Antidote for Gambling Withdrawal: Late-night KBO League broadcasts on ESPN
New Jersey, the American model for sports gambling, only processed $54 million in sports bets during the month of April. That’s not even 15% of what was initially projected. And if you have a sports gambler in your life, you know how bad they’re hurting right now. So what does it matter that the level of play of South Korea’s KBO League is roughly equivalent to America’s mid-tier minor leagues? There are still winners, losers, and spreads to cover.
Best Try: ESPN’s Remote H.O.R.S.E.
Indeed, this was a valiant effort. And it came very early in the quarantine, when we all were just trying to figure out what was going on. But unfortunately, this broadcast kinda stunk. On a technical level, each player had varying Internet quality, But bigger than that, frankly, it just wasn’t very fun. If there was a positive, it was that NBA Twitter got the opportunity to complain about something together, just like the old days.