Sports Networks to the Rescue!
Updated: Oct 2
In a world where disease has swept across the globe in a matter of months, forcing nations to go under quarantine and sports to be cancelled, a rag-tag team of heroes arises from the shadows to save the day: Sports Networks.
If I were to read that tagline to you in deep movie trailer voiceover fashion just five months ago, you'd probably think I was advertising some doomsday parody, and a crappy one at that. But the unfortunate reality is that we're living that crappy parody right now, and the rag-tag heroes saving us (us meaning sports fans, that is) are creative broadcasting innovations by our favorite sports networks. This has come in the forms of popularizing the most obscure sports, reliving legendary sports moments, and the release of an unprecedented documentary.
Our first hero involves a new sport tearing across the nation that... doesn't involve any sentient competitors? That's right: Marble Racing, or, to be less specific, ESPN 8 The Ocho.
On March 22, ESPN's secret weapon rose from its year long slumber to provide the world with 24 hours of pure sports entertainment. With such feature events as the 2019 Sign Spinning Championship, the 2019 Stupid Robot Fighting League, the 46th Annual Cherry Pit Spitting Championship, and everyone's favorite: the 2019 Jelle's Marble Runs. You know, the core four classic sports every American follows! Or at least, that's what we've got left.
ESPN began the tradition of The Ocho in 2017 to pay homage to an early-2000s Ben Stiller sports comedy called "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story," which joked about the sheer volume of ESPN channels by saying they air dodgeball tournaments on a fictitious ESPN8. So, every August beginning 2017, ESPN began rebranding ESPN2 as ESPN8 "The Ocho" for an annual 24 hours straight of purely the most... unique content. Essentially, ESPN takes everything from graduation party front yard games, to niche events celebrated by certain communities, to games many might not even consider sports (no offense to the spirited cherry pit spitting fanbase!)
This year, however, ESPN chose to bless us by releasing the 24 hour special five months early this year, claiming in an official press release, "When you needed it most... ESPN 8 The Ocho returns." Ah, yes, our hero has returned from its seven month slumber to save us from these dire times. Now I'm not saying we didn't want The Ocho back early, but if anyone "needed it most" right now, it'd be ESPN, based on their nearly 50% ratings drop from a year ago. Their showing of The Ocho actually was right on par with or even slightly better than their ratings from a year ago. Mind you, ESPN would normally broadcasting about March Madness, the beginning of the MLB season, and the end of the NBA regular season this time of year, so for a marathon of the most random and obscure sports selections to do so well, maybe we needed The Ocho too.
Our second hero that rose from the vaults of sports history is the gift of legendary sports games being reincarnated and brought back to the television screen once again.
As ESPN staple Scott Van Pelt said recently, ESPN and ESPN Classic are becoming indistinguishable. But ESPN isn't alone in their decision to live in the past (for business purposes, of course) since pretty much any and every sports network, both local and national, has been taking a trip down memory lane with us too. ESPN- all eight of their networks- as well as CBS, NBC, Fox Sports, TNT, and my local Boston Sports network have all been broadcasting iconic flashbacks. I have to say though, I don't know how Hulu will fair because, in case you hadn't heard, they have live sports! But throwback sports classics? Not too sure- they haven't made an ad series where they mention it fifty times per commercial.
Miracle at the Meadowlands. Malice at the Palace. Music City Miracle. The Miracle on Ice. All the game sixes and sevens and game-winners you can imagine. FIFA, NBA, NFL, WWE, Boxing, MLB, NHL, NCAA; you name it, it's going to be broadcasted. On top of that, the sports leagues' streaming services offered temporary free access to almost any game. Legendary sports moments from the last five decades, broadcast on several stations every night- it's any sports fan's dream. And beyond that, it's been a saving grace, for networks and fans alike.
As much as we've appreciated the influx of throwbacks and iconic moments though, us sports fans need our fix of new content. Let's face it, the NBA 2K season simulations are glorified knockoffs and we can only take so much of players playing their own video games before it gets stale. I do have to say, Devin Booker refusing to play as the Suns did sweeten the pot a bit. (Did someone say trade rumors?)
Just as our impatience for new content is beginning, a new hero has been born, and it is a glorious, never-before-seen feature:
Much like the Bulls in Game 6 of the '98 Finals against the Jazz, Michael Jordan has come in clutch to save us when we needed him most. In conjunction with ESPN , His Airness is releasing a mini series on April 19th to satiate our need for new, quality content. More specifically, it's a docuseries about his last season with the Chicago Bulls, ironically the aforementioned '97-'98 season. Therefore we find ourselves at a sort of point of inception where the documentary about Jordan's season that ended with the clutch Finals shot against the Jazz is our clutch shot against our sports drought.
The series will dive into Jordan and his waning days with what we wish would've been his only team (sorry, Wizards!), specifically his behavior and his relationships with big names around him. Steve Kerr and Scottie Pippen have alluded to a falling out between Jordan and the team, so we can only hope to get a view holistic enough to show the success and the tension that rode along with it. Regardless, we know that it will be full of anecdotes and behind-the-scenes looks that will give us never-before-seen insight into MJ's career and relationship with the Bulls. Chris Paul, being the President of the NBPA, got an early screening of the documentary and mentioned that it's something to be excited about and it'll have animated and opinionated narratives from everyone from Charles Oakley, to Bulls team members, to Jordan himself, and many more. AKA, everyone basketball junkie's dream.
The hype for this documentary began months ago, back in the golden days when a lockdown would've sounded like some cruel joke. Now that we're living this cruel joke in real life, however, so the hype train could not be rolling any faster as we count down the seconds to any new sports content. Luckily enough, perhaps as homage to the iconic McDonald's commercial featuring a Larry Bird v. MJ H.O.R.S.E. match, April 12 is bringing a H.O.R.S.E. tournament between NBA players, WNBA players, and NBA legends. While that will be good enough to hold us over, fans will be chomping at the bit for the new MJ feature. This documentary about the greatest player of all time is perfectly prime for some of the greatest ratings of all time.
Here we are, holed up in our houses with nothing to entertain us and so the sports market is meeting perhaps its greatest demand of all time. The only problem is, the sports well has run dry and left fans thirsty and desperate for content. So desperate, in fact, that we are turning to marble races to keep us entertained. Don't believe me? Then explain why The Ocho's own Jelle's Marble Runs YouTube account has gained over 150,000 followers in the past month alone. We have found our saving graces, though, as our favorite sports networks have gotten creative.
Although, let me just rephrase one thing a tiny bit: sports networks' creativity isn't kicking in to save us, but rather to save the stations themselves. Remember those tanking ratings I mentioned earlier? These are the grasping efforts to maintain ratings on networks designated for sports coverage without sports to cover. And honestly, I have to applaud the networks for both their creativity and success alike. As this quarantine goes further, it'll be interesting to see if they can maintain that success as their creativity is forced to escalate.
P.S. If you want to fulfill your sports fix in other ways, tune in to the podcasts such as Matt Barnes' and Stephen Jackson's All the Smoke Podcast, keep an eye on sports league's social media, take advantage of the networks creativity and generosity, and most importantly, stay up to date with the SBS Blog!