Since The Day The Sports Games Died (Or Were Postponed Indefinitely Due to COVID-19), the sports and sports media world has been in a bit of a bewildered free fall. There is now a gaping void in our lives in the space formerly occupied by the constant entertainment, distraction, cultural connectively, and conversation that was (in ordinary times) called “sports.”
Fans have mourned the loss of Opening Day in MLB. And the loss of the NBA and NHL seasons and the NCAA March Madness Tournament and the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.
Without the new daily content that we have all come to expect and rely on, sports media – both on television and online – has shifted to showing and debating the classics, the best players, the best moments.
MLB Network has replayed great moments like Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout game. The NFL Network has also delved into its history for replay content. As has ESPN, which has also showed its fair share of World’s Strongest Man Competitions.
The struggle is real.
Last week, I tuned into ESPN to find NBA players playing each other in live televised NBA 2K video games in a seeded “tournament” that ESPN apparently put together. Scores of their video game match-ups crawled underneath along the ticker, just to complete this surreal sports dystopia. It was not good.
Earlier this week, I read that ESPN and the NBA are in conversations to create a live-over-video HORSE competition among players. This sounds slightly better than the video games idea but also only marginally better than – say – watching paint dry.
So where is this all headed, for now and for after we recover?
Seton Hall University’s Professional-in-Residence B.J. Schecter is a veteran journalist who spent the last 20 years at Sports Illustrated and most recently served as executive editor of SI and SI.com. He recently addressed the topic of sports and sports media as it pertains to COVID-19:
How is the Sports Media industry being affected by the current state of COVID-19, such as with sports, tournaments, and now the Olympics being cancelled?
The novel coronavirus has affected sports like nothing in history. Usually when there is a significant world event, sports serve as a distraction and a way to unify people. We saw that with 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and many other events throughout history. In this pandemic, sports is a central part of the story, part of the problem. The virus easily spreads in large crowds and I think it will be months, if not years, before people feel comfortable attending events with 80,000-plus people.
What are broadcasters and sports journalists talking and writing about?
There are still a lot of stories to cover and write about. The beauty of sports is it touches every part of society and is ingrained in our culture. Nearly everyone can relate to sports.
In addition, famous athletes (and even some journalists) have a tremendous platform on social media. Many are now using that platform to communicate with the general public and urge them to practice safe measures and social distancing.
What role have sports journalists played during this pandemic?
A sports journalist is still a journalist, and many have been showcasing their reporting and storytelling skills in news, business and community reporting. They have told and shared so many good stories. They have also spread the message to take the stay-at-home measures seriously (see NBA broadcaster Mike Breen’s video on social media) and have shifted to covering the news of the pandemic.
How do you foresee the next few months taking shape as it relates to Sports Media?
Sports is going to play a central role in our recovery and getting back to normalcy. When live sporting events return, people will feel safer and better about things. Many events will begin without fans in attendance, but slowly we’ll get back to normal. I truly believe that once people feel safe going to a baseball or basketball game, they will feel safe resuming their normal lives.
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Jeramy Jannene