How ESPN Plans to Survive Without Live Sports Programming

The Worldwide Leader has a lot of holes to fill on the schedule

How ESPN Plans to Survive Without Sports
A view of the logo during ESPN The Party on February 5, 2016. (Mike Windle/Getty)
Getty Images for ESPN

When the NBA postponed its season a week ago due to concerns about coronavirus, there was a domino effect across the world of sports that led to nearly every major league canceling any future live games or events.

Those cancellations threw ESPN, which relies on games for much of its programming and content, a major curveball.

Now, as ESPN executive VP of programming acquisitions and scheduling Burke Magnus explained in a post on a company website, The Worldwide Leader is going to attempt to hit that ball out of the park. In the immediate future, ESPN will try to remain as relevant as possible by using its live studio programming to show fans the impact that the pandemic is having on the sports world.

“Since this week coincidentally is the beginning of the NFL league calendar and free agency, we’ve built our schedules with an eye toward that being a major topic of conversation,” Magnus writes. “The second goal is aimed at looking ahead to entertain fans through fun, compelling archival content and/or themed and stunt event programming that will provide a diversion at a time that there are virtually no other live sports to watch.”

Though ESPN won’t have any new highlights for SportsCenter for the foreseeable future, the network will continue to give sports fans their fix by attempting to show an increased amount of classic games, but there are some potential roadblocks to that strategy.

“Re-airing full-game presentations is not a right that we or other media companies typically have at our disposal at all times,” according to Magnus. “Each one of these circumstances requires individual conversations with the specific league or property to determine what’s possible. Since we’ve heard from fans that would love to relive full-game presentations, particularly at this moment in time, we are exploring that possibility for events and content that we don’t have re-air rights already.”

Ten years ago, ESPN was distributed in about 100 million homes, but now ESPN and ESPN2 are only found in about 84 million pay-TV homes, according to The Los Angeles Times. Through no fault of the network, which was already struggling to maintain viewership due to the increase of cord-cutters, those numbers may dip even lower over the next few months.

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