A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Major League Baseball’s opening day will be even more impactful than usual this year. Thursday’s games will take place in a nation hungry for normalcy. And while this truncated season is not “normal” at all, it is like a gift basket for millions of people who want to see live sports back on TV.
The MLB is the latest league to resume play with lots of Covid-related adjustments – and at a time when cases and hospitalizations are rising in many states. ESPN will carry the Yankees at the Nationals at 7 p.m. Eastern time (with Dr. Anthony Fauci throwing out the first pitch in Washington) and the Giants at the Dodgers at 10 p.m. There will be more games this weekend on Fox, MLB Network and TBS. Check out the full broadcast schedule here.
The networks have high hopes for a mostly homebound audience. Ratings for the recent preseason games were very strong. “Nobody knows if a pent-up demand of sports viewers actually exists, but MLB advertisers are banking that it does, and have been flocking to the regular season at an unprecedented pace,” John Ourand of Sports Business Journal wrote Wednesday.
Here are some ad sales data points:
- Fox Sports said that ads in its regular-season package are 90 percent sold out already.
- Disney Advertising Sales described “high demand” for the ESPN games.
- A Disney ad sales spokesman said “we are sold out of inventory for the opening week and the rest of the regular season.”
There is, however, a caveat in Brian Steinberg’s story for Variety: “Advertisers continue to worry over whether the leagues will be able to guarantee player health and complete their seasons.”
What will the games look like?
As CNN’s Steve Almasy wrote here, baseball “is going to look a lot different” this summer. He has a list of nine changes to look for.
Fox Sports announced on Thursday morning that its broadcasts will use new technology to insert “thousands of virtual fans” in some live shots.
Per Ourand’s subscribers-only newsletter, “MLB Network President Rob McGlarry had one main message when he met with his channel’s on-air talent this afternoon, on the eve of Opening Day. ‘We’re already in the middle of the season,’ McGlarry said. ‘We don’t have time. We have to hit the ground running. We only have 60 games.’”
McGlarry’s advice can apply to all of us, pandemic or no pandemic: “Do as much as we can in the limited time that we have.”
Limited access for reporters
“As U.S. team sports prepare to resume,” the AP’s Joe Reedy wrote recently, “journalists are facing the same reckoning that their colleagues who cover politics and entertainment have encountered — coming up with new approaches despite reduced access.” Reedy noted, “Many journalists worry that less access can mean less oversight…”