ESPN Embraces Historic Games, Slight Diversions In Coronavirus Era ESPN calls itself the "worldwide leader in sports," but there are few live sports to show. So it's scrambling to fill the time, offering diversions like cherry pit spitting and marble racing.
NPR logo

Historic Games, Documentaries And ... Marble Races: ESPN Without Live Sports

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/820857783/821591194" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Historic Games, Documentaries And ... Marble Races: ESPN Without Live Sports

Historic Games, Documentaries And ... Marble Races: ESPN Without Live Sports

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/820857783/821591194" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

As the coronavirus shuts down the NBA, baseball spring training and the National Hockey League, consider the predicament of ESPN. When sporting events are suspended indefinitely, what's the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports to do? NPR's David Folkenflik breaks it down.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: During the great lockdown of 2020, many millions of Americans would like nothing more than the diversion of watching their favorite professional and college teams, but those teams are shut down, too. For ESPN, a network defined by broadcasting, covering and endlessly analyzing those games, the disappearance has sent ratings sharply down and network executives scrambling to fill the time. That NBA playoff game on ESPN might just be from five years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: And the dream season is now complete. The Golden State Warriors are the 2015 NBA champions.

FOLKENFLIK: ESPN is pulling old documentaries off the shelves - profiles, features, highlight reels. And it's drawing inspiration from how it was spoofed in the Ben Stiller sports comedy "DodgeBall."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DODGEBALL")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) It's the Las Vegas International Dodgeball Open here on ESPN8 - the ocho - bringing you the finest seldom-seen sports from around the globe since 1999.

FOLKENFLIK: ESPN is embracing the satiric ocho brand by broadcasting old cherry spitting contests, marble races and even this improbable competition.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The goal - lift this 260-pound rock as many times over your head in one minute.

FOLKENFLIK: Two of ESPN's brightest stars help explain what life is like inside the network.

JEREMY SCHAAP: My name is Jeremy Schaap, and I host a couple of shows called "Outside Lines" and "E:60."

MINA KIMES: My name is Mina Kimes. I'm a senior writer at ESPN, where I'm the host of "ESPN Daily," "The Mina Kimes Show Featuring Lenny" and appear as a analyst on several of our TV shows.

FOLKENFLIK: Schaap and Kimes have been grappling with the same new reality - confronting ESPN.

SCHAAP: I mean, we have the rights, obviously, to the NBA, NFL rights, Major League Baseball rights. We have some digital NHL rights. We have soccer leagues from all over the world. You know, there's not much that ESPN doesn't show. It's a lot of stuff, which, of course, now is not going to be taking place.

KIMES: With our daily podcast, for example, we are doing some stories on the news. And by the news, I mean how coronavirus is affecting sports. And I try to find ways to talk about it every day, but I also think they want to hear about other things right now. Normalcy is escapist. That sounds crazy and contradictory, but I think it's true when it comes to sports.

FOLKENFLIK: Kimes' specialty is professional football. She had a burst of good fortune newswise. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady announced last week he was leaving New England, which is a bit akin to Theodore Roosevelt departing Mt. Rushmore.

KIMES: It was a little bit surreal because we talked about that. We're continuing to talk about that on all of my shows, even with the knowledge that no one really knows, you know, when the NFL or any other sport is coming back.

FOLKENFLIK: Meanwhile, mindful of edicts for people to stay home, ESPN is reinventing what shows look like and what shows sound like on the fly.

SCHAAP: My basement right now - well, there's a lot of kids toys. The biggest concern is getting to the chair for the shot and not stepping on any Legos.

KIMES: Studio is a generous word to describe where I'm at now, which is in my home office, which - it was the last room in my house I decorated. And many people have commented on how sparse it is. I tried to put some objects behind me to make it look a little bit more, I guess, homey. And now I'm being told it looks like a college dorm room.

SCHAAP: If you've got a good Internet connection, you know, I'm doing TV from the basement. I'm doing radio from wherever - broadcast-quality audio. We've got FaceTime. We've got Skype. The question is, what are we going to keep talking about?

FOLKENFLIK: David Folkenflik, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.