The Night Sports Turned Off the Lights

The evening of March 11 seemed like any normal night for Disney-owned ESPN, with evening NBA telecasts between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, and Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans, respectively, rounding out a broadcast schedule that was preceded by the University of North Carolina playing Syracuse University in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C.

College game commentators Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale went through their paces discussing the NCAA’s decision to run the pending March Madness national basketball tournament without spectators due the spreading coronavirus pandemic. The news overshadowed an upset in the making on the court as the storied N.C. Tar Heels were being dominated by the visiting Orange.

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Then came the bombshell: the NBA was suspending its season indefinitely after a player on the Jazz tested positive for the coronavirus. With games in Oklahoma City and Sacramento canceled before they began, and Jazz players and team officials quarantined in their locker room by health officials (a second Jazz player would test positive a day later), ESPN toggled between its headquarters in Bristol, Conn., Oklahoma City, Sacramento and Greensboro giving updates on the rapidly changing situation.

“I’ve loved [college basketball] for 40-something years,” Vitale said. “I never in my wildest dreams would think that I would say the NCAA tournament should be canceled, but it should be. There’s no doubt it should be. Health and safety is a priority. That’s the No. 1 priority. The NCAA has got to act and act quick.”

Indeed, within the next 24 hours the NCAA and most professional leagues (MLB, NHL, MLB, XFL, Nascar, PGA Tour and Association of Tennis Professionals, etc.), the Boston Marathon and high school sports competition in the United States had been either shut down or postponed for the next 30 days or longer.

With President Trump March 13 declaring a national emergency regarding COVID-19, ESPN and ESPN+, the brand’s subscription streaming video platform, and other sports TV networks were left with a gaping content hole that not even endless coronavirus chatter could fill.

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“This is an unprecedented situation,” ESPN said in a statement. “We have great relationships with our league partners and are confident we can address all issues constructively going forward. Our immediate focus is on everyone’s safety and well-being.”

The network March 12 aired its venerable “SportsCenter” program non-stop interviewing (now) idle coaches and game analysts around the country — many backtracking earlier comments that they felt the games should continue.

Fox Sports shuttered until March 20 all studio show productions due to the virus. NBCUniversal, Netflix and Amazon, among other media companies, advised their employees to work from home going forward.

With most of Hollywood shutting down content production to safeguard employees, and AT&T mandating that all employees (including WarnerMedia Entertainment) work from home if possible, the COVID-19 fiscal impact on the entertainment industry and the U.S. economy in general remains to be seen.

“In terms of impact on media, it really depends on how the virus plays out,” Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, told The Wall Street Journal. “The NBA and major media companies will have to focus on the health and safety of their employees and stakeholders. That will drive all decision-making.”

Early ‘Madden 20’ Football Release Helps Jumpstart July Video Game Sales

The early release of Electronic Arts Sports’ annual NFL video game, Madden 20, helped boost July video game sales from the previous-year period, according to new data from The NPD Group.

Total sales topped $762 million from $759 million last year. Software sales skyrocketed 34% to $340 million from $253.7 million — largely due to football.

Hardware sales continue to suffer as consumers await pending new edition consoles from Sony and Microsoft. Console revenue fell 22% to $169 million from $216.6 million. Accessories fell 12% to $254 million from $288.6 million.

Through July, game revenue is down 4% at $6.4 billion from $6.6 billion last year.

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The annual football video game featuring former NFL coach John Madden was released in July instead of August in part to its inclusion of select college teams.

NCAA-sanctioned games have been shelved in recent years following litigation from some players regarding lack of compensation for their likeness or name featured in games and marketing.

The NCAA reached a $20 million settlement in 2014 with plaintiffs, who included lead plaintiff and former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon. It was also the last licensed year for college-themed sports video with NCAA 14.

Madden 20 features a new segment, “Face of the Franchise: QB1,” showcasing elite quarterbacks beginning with their collegiate careers.

EA reached license agreements with 10 colleges: Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Miami, LSU, Oregon, University of Southern California, Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

Hoop Players Confused by Packaged Media

SAN ANTONIO – Heading into the NCAA men’s college basketball Final Four weekend, players from competing schools were given a variety of swag items, including movie DVDs – without digital codes, of course.

Sports-themed discs such as I, Tonya, Creed, Goal! and even pre-order vouchers for Black Panther elicited confusion among some players accustomed to a world of cell phones, streaming video and social media.

“I’ll give [the discs] to my parents,” said Villanova’s Eric Paschall. “I think they have a player.”

Indeed, players from Kansas, Michigan and Loyola Chicago remembered watching DVDs as kids, or even as recently as high school. Often renting from local video stores or Blockbuster – both fading retail memories in an age of Netflix.

A NCAA representative said DVD and Blu-ray titles were given out for entertainment and sponsor marketing, while limiting liability to the student-player’s amateur status.

Following well-publicized scandals involving college athletes trading bowl jerseys and autographs for tattoos and cash – both in violation of NCAA rules, officials considered packaged media a safe bet.

“I understand the trade-in value for a DVD movie online is less than a dollar,” said the NCAA rep. “These are kids with good intentions. But, we felt reassured regardless.”

Happy April Fool’s Day