Major Networks Respond and Adapt With Absence of Live Sports

The month of March to many hold some of the greatest moments in sports. The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournament heats up, along with the NBA regular season closing in on the playoffs, and Champions League play quickly intensifies.

However, many sports networks are forced to change their broadcasting slate due to the coronavirus pandemic. This unprecedented event has limited not only live sports but broadcaster’s abilities to produce a traditional studio-style show. Here are what many sports networks are doing to combat this issue.

ESPN is considered to be the largest sports network in the U.S. with a consistent top 10 ranking among all channels every year. The Disney owned company currently owns and operates nine cable networks with 216 hours of television time to fill. Ratings have significantly dropped for the network at a rate of just under 50% from the 12th and 25th of March. ESPN and ABC will also lose an estimated $481 million in ad-revenue if the NBA alone cancels the remaining regular season and playoff games. The 40-year-old network has been scrambling to adjust several of its programs.

While there are several gaps filled with signature NFL and NBA re-runs, the worldwide leader in sports has spun some unique content. ESPN The Ocho made a return to the screen on March 22nd. This scheduled programming featured re-runs of sports you may have never heard of like Cherry Pit Spitting, Slippery Stairs, and even Death Diving. ESPN is quickly working to run original content in lieu of no live sports such as documentaries, shows ran remotely, and SportsCenter.

Although it is the NFL’s offseason, it’s major network was anticipating large viewership with the NFL Draft looming. Due to restrictions for non-essential business to be conducted remotely, the major football network has been forced to pull live shows. In response to this, the league has offered consumers free access to it’s subscription-based NFL Game Pass.

Although this programming is intended to maintain TV ratings, the network has the NFL Draft to look to for a boost. The 2020 NFL Draft is still scheduled for April 23rd and will be produced without a live audience or fully remote. Considering the lack of action across the sports broadcasting industry, this might prove worthy for the NFL in terms of ratings.

NBC Sports is quickly adjusting to the current state of the world as well. NBC is notorious for airing NHL and MLB games and may lose significant dollars from ad revenue. Both leagues brought in a whopping total of $180 million in ad revenue from March to May of 2019. NBC has also lost the broadcasting of the 2020 Olympics with the latest postponement to 2021. The loss in ad revenue is staggering at an estimated $1.2 billion. With the loss of live sports, this may be a critical impact on the network.

NBC Sports is adapting to this change through its newly scheduled programming. On TV spots, the network is airing instant classics from previous years. The media giant is also continuing its show Pro Football Talk as it looks to generate viewership with the NFL Draft on the horizon.

Many other networks are still scrambling to adapt to this new reality. The coming weeks will determine the vast majority of plans for major media outlets. We will closely examine the implications and variables ahead.

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Carson Boykin

Assistant Account Executive, Sports