Fox Sports 1, ESPN face ‘unprecedented situation’ without live sports amid coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has rocked the world of sports, with all major live events canceled or postponed for the foreseeable future, putting around-the-clock sports networks in an awkward position.

The NBA, NHL, MLS and Major League Baseball suspended their seasons, the NCAA canceled all upcoming events, including the beloved March Madness, and everything from the Boston Marathon to the PGA Tour have been postponed. The XFL canceled the remainder of its regular season and tennis has been put on hold.

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ESPN and Fox Sports 1 on-air personalities have had plenty to discuss as the entire industry was upended but opining about when things will return to normal can only entertain fans for so long.

It’s an anxiety-inducing scenario for any fan that relies on live sports for entertainment – and nobody seems to know what sports networks will do or how long they will be void of live sports.

Dr. Jennifer Ashton told ESPN viewers on Friday morning that it’s unclear when fans can resume watching sports.

“Anyone who is throwing out numbers, I’d like to look into the crystal ball that they’re looking into. No one knows,” Ashton said on ESPN’s “First Take.”

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Both ESPN and Fox Sports 1 have put an emphasis on safety so far and FS1 even suspended its live shows.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we have made the decision to suspend production of our live FS1 daily studio shows through at least Friday, March 20,” a Fox Sports spokesperson said in a statement. “Our top priority is the health and safety of our employees. We will continue to monitor the situation and adjust accordingly.”

FS1 released an updated programming schedule that is filled with repeats of various events such as NASCAR races and Big East basketball.

ESPN extended its flagship “SportsCenter” into primetime on Thursday night as constantly breaking news related to coronavirus poured in. The network is expected to take a similar approach in the near term and fill the absence of live sports events with news and analysis.

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“This is an unprecedented situation,” an ESPN spokesperson told Fox News. “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.”

ESPN has a large library of popular “30 for 30” documentaries it can air as needed to fill time, while Fox Sports owns evergreen content such as classic games, boxing matches and its own library of documentaries.

“Sports fans are going to be looking for other ways to get distracted from the news… it’s going to be a mix of news and day-to-day updates about status checks and what players and teams are up to with some storytelling and nostalgia plays mixed in,” a longtime industry veteran told Fox News.

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The Hill media reporter and avid sports fan Joe Concha told Fox News that sports networks could mirror cable news for the foreseeable future and focus on panel discussions with a lot of opinion and debate.

“There's no scores or news outside of coronavirus impact to report on, so documentaries such as all ESPN ‘30-for-30’ and repeating classic sporting events will need to fill all of those hours,” Concha said of the time that isn’t filled with pundits shouting.

Concha added that some events that have been canceled could have been moved instead and he’s hopeful that leagues will reconsider.

“I also think March Madness could still be played in May or June if things look safe to do so,” Concha said. “Let these players finish the season. It's doesn't have to happen in March, and the ratings would be extraordinary.”

But as of now, there aren’t live major sporting events happening anytime soon.

At various points on Thursday night FS1 aired a replay of a Xavier vs. Butler basketball game, NBCSN aired a replay of Mecum Auto Auctions and CBS Sports Network aired a repeat of the Longines Master Paris equestrian event, according to Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand.

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Sports Business Journal launched a newsletter to cover all things related to the coronavirus’ impact on sports.

“Bottom line: A sports business bear market is here,” Sports Business Journal executive editor Abraham Madkour wrote. “No way to know when any of the leagues will resume, or if all will resume in time to salvage their respective seasons. No clear solution for a business that relies on athletes competing in close quarters and spectators sitting side-by-side.”