Is this esports' time to shine?
The big picture: Fox Sports on Sunday will air the first-ever Madden NFL Invitational tournament later today on FS1. The two-hour event, to be hosted by Chris Myers and Rachel Bonnetta, will raise awareness for the CDC Foundation’s Covid-19 relief efforts, the network said. Could this be the jumping-off point that esports needs to go mainstream?
Had you told the programming directors at major broadcasters like ESPN and Fox Sports just one month ago that there would essentially be no live sports to air come the end of March, they would have laughed you right out of the room. Yet, here we are.
The NBA and NHL have canceled their seasons. The NCAA basketball tournament was canceled. NASCAR has postponed races through May 3. MLB has postponed the start of its season. Major boxing and MMA events have been called off. Even the Olympics have been pushed back a year.
Fox Sports said the esports tournament will consist of seven matches across three rounds of play to determine a winner among a field of celebrity competitors including Derwin James, Antonio Cromartie, Michael Vick, Matt Leinart, Orlando Scandrick, T.J.Houshmandzadeh, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Ahman Green. All players will compete remotely with the matches streamed live during the telecast.
Yeah, it’s essentially Twitch, but on cable TV.
Sure, it’s unusual, but what other option does the broadcaster have? It’s not like there’s a contingency plan in place for this sort of scenario and Fox Sports likely doesn’t have the massive archive of old sporting events to fill open programming slots that ESPN does. The only option, it would seem, is to think outside the box and that’s what we’re seeing play out.
WWE, for example, is still pumping out content, albeit in empty arenas (and yes, it’s just as bizarre and uncomfortable as it sounds). The UFC is still attempting to put on its mega-fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson on April 18, a bout that is seemingly cursed as it has been scheduled and canceled four times already.
For Fox and especially esports in general, however, this is a huge opportunity. Last week’s virtual NASCAR race drew impressive numbers and today’s football broadcast could easily top that. And to think, it wasn’t all that long ago when ESPN’s president proclaimed that esports were not real sports.
Fox Sports' Madden NFL 20 Invitational is scheduled to kick off at 7:00 Eastern on FS1.
By Shawn Knight
March 29, 2020