Sports Fans Lose NCAA March Madness and NBA

The abrupt cancellation of collegiate NCAA March Madness and suspension of National Basketball Association games over concern about the spread of coronavirus have left fans scrambling to find programs to satisfy their hunger for sports. Coronavirus worries have put an abrupt end to the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Every major American sports league from the NBA to Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the National Hockey League has turned off the lights as the Covid-19 pandemic multiplies.

Major sports broadcasters and digital publishers responded by turning to a mix of reruns and analysis to replace their regular games and postseason tournaments. Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN leaned on “SportsCenter” throughout the day on its main network after the cancellation of several college basketball tournaments. The ESPN2 channel filled vacant airtime with simulcast programming from ESPN and ESPNNews.

ESPN Could Repackage Archived Football

ESPN has considered moving up the release date for original content to fill the air along with archived games. The network’s repackaged programming could highlight theme nights of college football games or an archived boxing match every Friday.

ViacomCBS Inc.’s CBS Sports normally broadcasts the NCAA “March Madness” tournament but has fallen back on daytime shows, news and prime-time entertainment. Fox Sports has been relying on live events from the Professional Bowing Association and World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. and filling the void with classic games and documentaries such as a profile of National Football League’s Tom Brady.

Websites of digital publishers such as the Athletic, Action Network and Barstool Sports are filled with stories and analysis. San Francisco- based Athletic launched coverage of the impact of coronavirus around the country. Streaming service FloSports relies on sporting events outside the mainstream such as Olympic wrestling, softball and swimming. The service is turning to archived matches as well as more live podcasts and exclusive interviews.

NCAA Considered Playing to Empty Arenas

Cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournaments brought the season to a skidding halt just shy of a month before champions were to be crowned. The NCAA first announced the games would go on without fans in mostly empty arenas. Then the N.B.A. announced its decision to suspend operations in a move that college sports officials said alarmed student athletes who look up to the professional league for guidance.

The N.B.A. suspended its season after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for coronavirus. Just moments before the Jazz were set to tip off against the Thunder in Oklahoma City, the start was delayed. After about 30 minutes, the game was called off and both teams went to their locker rooms. The NBA season ended that same night with the cancellation of a game between the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans.

This will be the first year since 1939 that the three-week NCAA March Madness championships will not be played. The tournament has grown in importance until it is one of the biggest events in American sports and pays the NCAA and its hundreds of member universities and colleges almost $1 billion each in revenue. A television contract with CBS and Turner accounts for almost $800 million of those annual earnings.


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