Things are looking very different right now in the sports world in the wake of COVID-19. At a time when we’re usually watching the start of MLB and counting down the days until the NBA playoffs, we’re instead counting the days we’ve spent at home waiting for all of the above to return.
While leagues and networks work to figure out how to salvage their seasons, many have turned to the virtual world to muster on. The NFL Draft, originally set to be held in Las Vegas, will now be held virtually, with players finding out their fate sitting behind a screen in their living rooms. As executives, teams, and players navigate a world with live events on hold, many are diverting from their regular content and production to help entertain, educate and protect what matters most — people.
The NFL is maintaining its #StayHomeStayStrong message around COVID-19 by making the NFL Draft virtual this year. In addition to online interviews with players and a virtual green room, the league is also using the event’s airtime as a fundraiser. A “Draft-A-Thon” will take place over the course of the three-day event raising money for COVID relief efforts. Both events will be broadcasted on April 23-25 on NFL Network, ABC, ESPN and ESPN Deportes.
New York City Football Club
New York City Football Club (NYCFC) and the New York Yankees came together to show love and appreciation for their city and those that make game days possible. The two teams partnered up with New York Common Pantry to create a $1.4 million COVID-19 relief program for both the NYCFC and Yankees gameday staff and donated 1,000 meals to the South Bronx community that houses the teams’ shared home field.
MSG Network created a way for New York Rangers fans to get their sports fix while giving back. The network aired eight hours of the Rangers 2013-14 Stanley Cup run, during which time they encouraged fans watching to tweet photos and add #OpenForTakeout.
By teaming up with MSG Network, Bud Light was able to advertise its “Open for Takeout” initiative throughout the broadcast, expanding its reach outside of New York City.
During the broadcast, several Rangers players selected fans they’d send a meal to from a local restaurant in their community in support of small businesses.
Without sports, athletes have been left in the same position as their fans, staying home and looking for ways to engage and entertain. From live streams with Lebron James to Tom Brady’s PSA about COVID-19, players are finding ways to stay connected to their fellow teammates, other players and of course, their fans. Gamers, like Rosemary “Nekka” Kelly, are using multi-player games as a means of connection and conversation with virtual communities, creating a feeling of togetherness in these isolating times.
In the wake of race cancellations, NASCAR shifted the use of its 3D printers to design and create personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers and hospitals nationwide. Additionally, NASCAR led the charge in providing a virtual televised outlet for its fans. Leaning on its partnership with iRacing, the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series was created and broadcast on FS1. The virtual racing experience, which features the biggest names in NASCAR going head-to-head, drew over 2.1 million viewers in its first two races.
The suspension of the NBA’s season has fans and players craving live-action games in any way they can get them. So, the NBA took its play to the fans with an NBA 2K Players Tournament.
The virtual event was streamed live on ESPN, drawing approximately 100,000 views over its first weekend. The tournament held the attention of streamers, fans and players; giving each party a taste of the in-game banter they’ve been missing.
Now more than ever, it’s important to remember that no matter where we live in the world, we’re all in this thing together. So, for now, let’s stay home. Let’s help those who can’t get what they need without a hand. Let’s support and rally around everyone on the frontline. When we do, we’ll run out of our houses, hug our loved ones, and await the return of what we’ve been craving for so long: live sports.