How Are Sports Networks Filling Air Time?

By Joseph Sciancalepore
Staff Reporter

The sports world is shutting down until further notice thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. The NBA has suspended their season indefinitely, and all National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) spring sports have been canceled. The NHL and a plethora of soccer leagues around the world have been postponed.

This leaves top sports networks like ESPN, Fox, and NBC Sports scrambling to fill airtime for all of their daily shows. ESPN shows Get Up and First Take continue to air live with guests appearing on the show from the comfort of their homes, for example.

Prof. Paul Pabst works as an executive producer for the “Dan Patrick Show,” and has previously worked for ESPN and CBS Sports. He discussed how the show fills their airtime when there are no live sports to cover.

“It’s actually been very easy to do the show this week. We can all talk about the communal situation that sports fans find themselves in with no live sports,” said Pabst. The shared experience is the conversation we are all having on air and off.”

Prof. Brian Thorne has been working as a freelance technician for NBC, Golf Channel, ESPN, NFL Films and Paramount Network for almost 15 years. He talked about how the temporary cancellation of sports affects the people in his profession.

“This pandemic has hit the sports television industry very hard,” said Thorne. “After the NBA suddenly suspended the season, and then the subsequent announcements of other major sports leagues temporarily shutting down or cancelling events entirely, all remote technicians finally started to understand the hardships ahead of them.”

Thorne also shared his experience of working an event that eventually was postponed.

“I was at The Players Championship in Florida working for NBC Golf when the PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan announced on Thursday that The Players Championship would continue without spectators,” said Thorne. “Less than 24 hours later, Mr. Monahan held another press conference on Friday at 8:00 a.m. announcing that the Players Championship had been cancelled…”

Both Pabst and Thorne have also observed and enjoyed how other networks have filled airtime during this sports hiatus.

“ESPN and others are very creative on how to cover what is and isn’t going on in sports,” said Pabst. “I like that they have played old games to fill the void. It’s like ESPN Classic is back, which is a good thing.”

The sports networks programs have altered their structure to benefit the health and safety of its workers.  

“I think the Sports Media industry has responded appropriately. Doing many shows with skeleton crews, conducting production meetings online, and having talent stay home and broadcast via webcams are just a few examples of the smart things that are currently happening in the industry,” said Thorne. “Networks have done a good job filling airtime with anything to take our minds off the pandemic, even if it is a NCAA basketball game from 2013.”

Both professors also agreed that even though there are no live games to talk about, NFL free agency, which officially started this week, has given sports fans and networks something to be excited about.

“There have been a ton of NFL free agency topics this week. Those topics don’t rely on live games,” said Thorne. “Tom Brady leaving the Patriots is a huge story any week, but it’s on an even bigger island this week with no other live sports to talk about. Luckily, NFL free agency can be safely conducted so that starving sports fans have something to discuss and debate.”

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