Sports entertainment executives from across the industry gathered virtually on July 14 for Variety‘s annual Sports and Entertainment Summit presented by City National Bank.
The summit focused on the pandemic’s impact on how the pandemic has changed sports media and why sports can be a vessel for social justice. Here are 10 takeaways from the event.
Sports Is A Great Equalizer
At the Visionaries of Sports programming, sports media executives discussed the joys and challenges of producing sports content, sharing what inspires them about sports and the philosophy behind their companies.
“For Black people, sports was the first place where we began to be recognized as human,” said Raina Kelley, vice president and editor-in-chief of ESPN’s The Undefeated. “The first time people saw Jesse Owens and thought to themselves, this is a spectacular human being who has these kinds of capabilities. And it builds as Black people participate in more and more sports, moments of civil rights, moments of social justice. It is a part and parcel of our culture.”
Haley Rosen, CEO of Just Women Sports, added, “There’s a theme here of sports being the great equalizer, and I think that’s a hundred percent true. We see it with the U.S. Women’s National team, they’re on the forefront of fighting for change. And if we want more women like that — if we want more women leading companies and as CEOs and in stem subjects — let’s get them in sports.”
“Formula 1: Drive to Survive” Hopes To Take F1 Mainstream
“With ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive,’ there was a definite desire for us to take this sport to a more mainstream audience, or to an audience that had perhaps never watched an F1 race before,” executive producer Paul Martin said.
The Netflix series provides viewers with a behind-the-scenes look at the drivers and races of the Formula One World Championship, which Martin says is exciting because the show’s executives never quite know what they are going to get.
“Sometimes you just have to stand back and just admire what you’re seeing unfold in front of you and document it in the best way you possibly can because, you know, you can’t control it.”
Time Can Be The Key To Unlocking Authenticity
Carmelo Anthony is a believer of the 10,000-hour rule.
The 10-time NBA all-star recently launched his own production company called Creative 7, which sets out to promote diverse perspectives on-screen. He said that in order to create authentic projects, you have to be willing to put in the time and effort.
“We had to sit down and really figure out what would be the purpose of Creative 7? What’s the brand? What’s behind it? What’s the messaging?” he said. “And once we establish what that was, then we were able to pick the projects that we really want to talk about and then the stories that we really want to tell.”
The Importance of Giving Back To The Community
Anthony added that the idea of inspiring the next generations and spending a lot of time giving back to his community is authentic in his nature, and also attributes to his well-being and success.
“That’s just who I am, I’ve always been about my community and giving back,” Anthony said. “Most importantly, people understand that I’m a solid person. I’m not perfect, I’m a solid guy though. I want to help others, I want to bring others along with me, I want to teach and I want to learn at the same time from people. So when people have that connection to that realness and that authenticity of an individual, nothing else matters at the end of the day.”
The COVID-19 Pandemic Elevated the Symbolic Nature of the Olympics Opening Ceremony
Because the Tokyo Olympics were postponed by a year because of the pandemic, NBC Olympics executive producer and president Molly Solomon and her team realized the Opening Ceremony was going to be a “global moment.”
“When you think about it, it’s the first time the world is going to gather,” she explained. “So many different regions around the world are in different places in getting through the pandemic, but nonetheless, there are going to be 206 delegations marching into that stadium. And that is a moment. It’s not over, but we’re beginning to see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel.”
As a result, NBC decided it will broadcast the ceremony live from Tokyo that morning, and then air it again later for a primetime show in the evening.
The Delay of the Summer Games Means Back-to-Back Olympic Shows for NBC
After the Tokyo Olympics culminate in August, NBC will have just six months until the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. NBC’s Molly Solomon said planning has required a lot of discipline, but ultimately it’s an opportunity for viewership.
“The day the closing ceremony ends in Tokyo is 180 days until the winter Olympics. And there happens to be an NBC Super Bowl smack dab in the middle of the Olympics,” Solomon said. “We can’t wait to embrace that synergy because it really is a once in a lifetime moment.”
Solomon further compared the situation to 1984 when ABC had the winter and summer Olympics in the same year. By contrast, ABC produced a total of 243 hours of coverage in total between the two games, while NBC is set to produce over 9,000 hours.
The WNBA Is Embracing Their Players Multi-Faceted Needs — But There’s Still Room For Growth
Chiney Ogwumike, who plays basketball for the Los Angeles Sparks, said women athletes are often told to just stick to the sport and then everything else that comes with it is on the back burner. While she said the league is starting to embrace that it’s a league full of varied women entrepreneurs and mothers, she believes there is still room for growth.
“We are women that compete at a high level and balance jobs and having families and all of the day-to-day obligations,” Ogwumike said. “You have mothers that are bringing their children to games and into practice, and then also winning MVPs and are champions of this league. So I think that aspect of embracing who we are, especially from that note and realizing that we have a space that is, has room for growth.”
WBNA Players Are Setting Out To Represent Themselves Authentically
Speaking about new ways to build partnerships and continue to expand the WBNA’s platform, Sue Bird from the Seattle Storm said that it’s important for the organization to represent the most authentic versions of their players.
“I’ve been in the league long enough to know when maybe they wanted to make us look a little more feminine and not say what our sexual preference was,” Bird said. “I just think in the world, period, forget sports — people are drawn to authenticity. People want to be around people who are genuine.”
“Ted Lasso” Opened up the Door for More Comedies About Sports
As an Apple TV Plus production, “Ted Lasso” proved sports comedies don’t have to be affiliated with sports-centric outlets to find success.
“Now with Amazon, Apple, Netflix, ESPN, Disney Plus, there are so many platforms out there for you and for content. So I do think when you have success for ‘Ted Lasso,’ it opened up the doors for so many other comedies about sports or stories about sports to be told on non-traditional sports outlets,” Michael Strahan said.
Sports Storytelling is About the Human Connection
Founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady, the storytelling developed by Religion of Sports is “not about who’s going to win,” Chopra explained.
“We use sports as the backdrop, the language to talk about things that are bigger, like the human experience. Pretty much everything that’s going on on the planet can be explained through the filter or the frame of sports,” he said.
“It’s about the connection, the human element, bringing life and experience in a different way to people,” Strahan added.