ESPN recently tested a “BetCast” for NBA fans interested in sports wagering and a “KidsCast” of a Little League championship game aimed at the younger set. Now it’s going to try what might best be called a “MarvelCast.”
The Disney sports-media giant on Monday, May 3, plans to air an “NBA Special Edition,” a game between the Golden State Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans that will weave elements from an original Marvel story and characters including Iron Man, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Captain America, Black Widow and Doctor Strange into the live action. The broadcast will use 3-D virtual characters, animation packages and customized graphics to tell the tale of the Avengers watching the match in hopes of finding new heroes to help them fight an invading alien army.
Sports fans who want to watch the regular game can see it on ESPN. But those who may be eager to try something new can watch “NBA Special Edition Presented by State Farm: Marvel’s Arena of Heroes” on ESPN2, the streaming-video outlet ESPN Plus or ESPN Deportes. “We’re eager for fans to experience this unique, innovative presentation that will pair Marvel and ESPN’s exceptional storytelling and production,” said Matt Kenny, ESPN’s vice president, programming and acquisitions, in a statement.
The “MarvelCast” will be anchored by ESPN commentators Ryan Ruocco and Richard Jefferson, who will hold forth from a Marvel-themed studio at ESPN’s Bristol, CT headquarters. Angélique Roché, the host of a Marvel Entertainment podcast, will provide expert superhero analysis.
“The new ‘Marvel’s Arena of Heroes’ telecast will be the first of its kind to bring Marvel’s storytelling directly to the real-time experience of a NBA game, and we are excited for fans to be able to watch their favorite players through the lens of Marvel’s mightiest heroes,” said Mike Pasciullo, vice president, marketing and communications, Marvel Entertainment, in a prepared statement.
During the game, Iron Man and Black Panther will unveil a plan to expand the ranks of the Avengers. The obvious recruiting center is, well, the ESPN game, and Marvel characters will observe three players from each team during the game, awarding them “Marvel Hero Points” based on their achievement and performance. The heroes will study Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins from the Golden State Warriors and Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball from the Pelicans. The player on the winning team who scores the most points will be crowned Marvel’s first “Champion” following the game. Every point, rebound, assist, steal or block wins one Marvel Hero Point. But any missed field goal, free throw or turnover means a Hero Point gets deducted.
The Marvel contest is the latest in a parade of bespoke game broadcasts from some of the giants of the sports-media world. ESPN, ViacomCBS and others are testing all kinds of new formats in a bid to lure new viewers who hail from a range of popular consumer interests. ViacomCBS earlier this year aired an NFL Wild Card game on Nickelodeon aimed at luring kids and their parents. The game featured commentary from members of the cast of Nickelodeon’s sketch-comedy show “All That,” animated graphic overlays and some of the outlet’s signature green slime. Baseball’s MLB Network will this Sunday offer a “Clubhouse” broadcast that lets former pitcher CC Sabathia talk to his fellow broadcasters in more casual fashion. And ESPN has split its NFL Draft in different broadcasts on its flagship outlet as well as ABC in a bid to draw both football aficionados and more casual fans.
The leagues are also pushing the TV experiments. “This fun and innovative game presentation builds upon our goal of providing personalized and compelling viewing options for our fans,” said David Denenberg, the NBA’s senior vice president, global media distribution and business affairs, in a prepared statement about the coming Marvel game.
As more TV viewers migrate to streaming-video hubs to watch their favorite series, live sports broadcasts are one of the few things left in the traditional media’s entertainment arsenal that can draw the big, live crowds that advertisers crave. While some of the niche “casts” aren’t likely to draw bigger crowds than a traditional game, they can win new fans to the sport, and — so the networks hope — grow a larger audience to sports overall. Little wonder, then, that ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro has even gone so far as to suggest the company will consider different broadcasts of the Super Bowl when ESPN become eligible to air it as part of its new rights contract with the NFL.