As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread and the expectation is that we are in for a lengthy absence from normalcy, with sports leagues suspended indefinitely (and at least into this summer) to promote necessary social distancing to flatten the curve, the sports media (including this website you are reading) are trying to adjust to life without live sports. As such, there is a necessity placed on getting creative with programming, and while the NFL is filling that void right now with a wild start to its offseason, there will be a few months to fill, at least, before we get sports back on the field, court, track, course, etc.
For a place like ESPN, that makes for a tricky situation, as they rely heavily on live sports programming to draw eyes, and having actual sports things happening to discuss and debate on their various shows across various platforms. They have pivoted to running mostly SportsCenter, Get Up, and First Take right now, operating otherwise on limited live resources, but are working on a new plan right now, as detailed in the latest Variety piece.
Among the discussions being had are how to ramp up playing classic games (ESPN Classic is gone, but might be revived on the Deuce or something), but there are hurdles to clear there. They also have a library of 30 for 30s they can run at nights to pass the time, but what people want the most is their 10-hour documentary on the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, The Last Dance, to run earlier than the June scheduled release. Many, including some of us here at Dime, have pushed for this, but as ESPN explains, that can’t happen until production on the documentary is done, which as of now, it is not.
“I know some have asked about ‘The Last Dance,’ and the reality is that the production of that film has not yet been completed, so we are limited there at the moment,” says ESPN VP of programming Burke Magnus told Variety. “Obviously, you can’t air it until it’s done.”
Dime has been able to confirm with ESPN sources that the documentary has not been officially moved up although it seems that isn’t an impossibility. Many were excited when promos switched from saying “Coming in June” to “Coming Soon,” and there is a chance it’s moved up some, but an immediate release is not yet in the cards.
Given the length of time we are expected to be without live sports, there probably isn’t much reason for ESPN to rush the documentary out given it’s going to be, by far, their biggest draw. Still, we can hope to get it maybe a touch early, as once the NFL Draft is over in late April we can figure to be in the real doldrums of this no-sports period.