How Sports are Turning to Digital During the COVID-19 Pandemic

We are currently living in a state of being that was unexpected heading into 2020. Just a month ago, we had NBA and NHL games, the XFL just launching, all eyes shifting to the beginning of March Madness; sports fans couldn’t ask for much more.
Now, a month later, here we are, NBA and NHL on pause; XFL canceled; MLB Opening Day postponed. Teams and leagues unexpectedly had to make major decisions in a short time, unsure when sports would return. Essentially, a PR nightmare for any single organization, across all sports.
Being the happy medium in most people’s lives however, the teams had to continue producing content, even without any games being played. How this would happen was a mystery to anyone, but given a few days to gameplan, most every team and organization has discovered their next digital creative venture. In this blog, we highlight a couple of ways teams and leagues have gone fully digital to keep engagement with their audience during this time.

NASCAR – iRacing

In wake of the NASCAR schedule being put on hold temporarily, NASCAR has decided to take the game digital. Starting Sunday, March 22, they kicked off the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series. iRacing is a real-life simulation where competitors get behind the wheel and race virtually around numerous tracks, including tracks from the NASCAR schedule. Among the normal full-time drivers competing are Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, and retired drivers including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Bobby Labonte. The first race at Homestead-Miami became the most-watched esport event on TV, and NASCAR topped their own record in the second race with over 1 million viewers for the Texas Motor Speedway race.

MLB The Show 2020: Player’s Tournament

On Friday, March 27, the baseball video game series “MLB The Show” hosted an online player’s tournament. Among the four-man field was Cincinnati Reds’ pitcher Amir Garrett, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, Minnesota Twins pitcher Trevor May, and San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence. With over 6,000 fans watching the players square off, this was another great example of broadcasting for fans what players would be doing on their own.

MLB’s #OpeningDayAtHome

With the postponement of the MLB season, that obviously meant a postponement of one of baseball’s biggest days across the league, Opening Day. In what is usually a day of excitement, ceremonies, and memories, that was placed on hold this season. Or so we thought. To fill the void of what would have been Opening Day, the MLB and its teams joined together for #OpeningDayAtHome. The MLB broadcasted across their channels some of the most memorable games in recent years, as did many teams as well. Additionally, some other teams went even further, like the Padres who asked their fans to submit videos wearing their Padres gear at home. This just goes to show that sports truly do bring us all together, even if they aren’t being played.

NBA 2K Players-Only Tournament

Starting Friday, April 3, the NBA and NBA 2K have paired together to provide a 16-player NBA 2K tournament, played among current NBA stars and will be broadcasted on ESPN. Much like NASCAR’s iRacing league, this is a chance for NBA fans to see their favorite players get behind the controllers and square off for some entertainment. Some players competing include 2x NBA Champion and MVP Kevin Durant, Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell, Demarcus Cousins, and others.

Madden Charity Tournament

On Wednesday, April 1, The Checkdown and Madden teamed up for another players tournament, including Chargers’ stars Keenan Allen and Derwin James, Super Bowl Champions Tyreek Hill and Tyrann Mathieu, and others from around the league. The tournament is being played as a charity event, as The NFL Foundation and EA are making $5,000 donations on behalf of each player and an additional $20,000 on behalf of the winner to charities support COVID-19 relief. The tournament is a two-day event, with the first round being played on the 1st and then semi-finals and championship on the 2nd.
As the sports world continues to evolve to digital as we go through this unprecedented time, we will continue to update this blog with more events we see and love.