When Walt Disney’s ESPN airs a Wild Card game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Tennessee Titans this Saturday, viewers will be able to get a little bit of everything.
Interested in chatter about sports betting? A simulcast of the game running on streaming outlet ESPN Plus will have it. Want to talk about pop culture and celebrity gossip? Check out the game on Freeform, the Disney cable network devoted to younger audiences. Have a craving to hear the game broadcast in Spanish? ESPN Deportes will deliver. The game will also air on ESPN, ABC and ESPN2.
The “mega cast” of one of the last pre-championship games of the season aims to show how Disney can bring new and varied audiences to NFL contests, one of the demands the league has put to its media partners as they all look to renew crucial rights pacts that give Disney and rivals like NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS and Fox Corp. the ability to show NFL matches every weekend. ESPN’s pact lapses after the 2021 season while its competitors’ end the following year. All the companies are in the midst of negotiating with the league for new agreements they hope will take them to the end of the decade or beyond.
In one of the most interesting developments, ESPN will use its ESPN Plus streaming hub to air a version of the game that delves into sports data and betting opportunities, a new signal the Disney outlet is pondering how to introduce more content centered around wagering as more states are expected to legalize the practice in years to come. Rivals like WarnerMedia and Fox have already begun to allow some of their most prominent hosts to talk about betting opportunities during pre-game studio shows.
ESPN Plus will tap broadcast teams from “NFL Live” and the company’s “Daily Wager” betting program to introduce analytics, odds breakdowns and other elements related to betting during a broadcast of the Wild Card game. The analysts — Laura Rutledge, Mina Kimes, Dan Orlovsky and Marcus Spears and Doug Kezirian, Joe Fortenbaugh and Tyler Fulghum — will serve up more of a conversational format rather than a traditional game telecast, and will supplement scenes of game play with graphics arrays that feature statistics. Each group will hold forth from their home studio, with “NFL Live” stationed in Bristol, CT and “Daily Wager” anchored in Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, Freeform will feature a special halftime program centered around DJ Khaled, along with ESPN hosts Jesse Palmer and Maria Taylor in conversation during the game with celebrities and other high-profile guests. The chatter will incorporate pop culture and sports and will be allowed to flow freely, rather than being timed to match a particular segment. ESPN, which did not name many of the guests expected to appear, said the visitors will hail from TV music, and sports and noted that some may have ties to Baltimore or Nashville. Cierra Ramirez from Freeform’s “Good Trouble” and Demetria McKinney and Ashley Nicole WIlliams from “Motherland: Fort Salem” will be among the visitors. Viewers will see a “multi-box presentation” that will allow them to keep up with the game as well as the conversations between hosts and guest. will have the game consistently shown on the screen in addition to the hosts and guests.
The ESPN2 broadcast will include Tedy Bruschi, Matt Hasselbeck and Rex Ryan from “Sunday NFL Countdown” and Booger McFarland from “Monday Night Countdown,” who will break down each team’s game strategy with telestrator analysis and other real-time commentary.
Meanwhile, ABC and ESPN will simulcast a traditional game broadcast. But even that will come with some bells and whistles. The game will feature 4K robotic cameras stationed near the goal lines and nine camera will the ability to present the action in “super slow motion.” ESPN will also be able to place virtual first-down markers and lines on screen in new ways.