When Will Live Sports Return To Our Screens?
On a global scale, both major and minor sporting events have experienced widespread cancellations and postponements due to the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. OTT and on-demand streaming platforms like DAZN have been surrounded with speculation of financial hardships, and we have witnessed the historic postponement of the Olympic Games – originally scheduled to take place in Tokyo this year.
More recently, announcements and rumours alike have ignited renewed interest in the possibility of elite sports returning to our screens very soon. Below, you’ll find a helpful global round-up of sorts, including key dates for the return of our beloved live sporting events.
Summer Olympic Games & Paralympic Games
After a period of uncertainty and global pressure, Olympic officials and the Tokyo 2020 organisers announced that the Summer Olympic Games would have to be rescheduled. The Summer Olympic Games are now postponed until Friday the 23rd of July 2021. Likewise, the Paralympic Games have been delayed until Tuesday the 24th of August 2021.
For reference, the Olympic Games have only ever been cancelled twice – once for World War One, and again for World War Two. Moreover, the Olympic Games have never before been rescheduled to take place on a new date. Athletes the world over have been impacted by the decision, which derails their training schedules and hopes for medals this year. One thing is for certain – a delayed Olympic Games is better than no Olympic Games at all.
Football (or Soccer for our friends in the US)
In the UK, the Premier League (PL) is scheduled to restart on Wednesday the 17th of June – with Aston Villa facing Sheffield United and Manchester City taking on Arsenal. The 92 remaining matches that are still to be played in the PL will take place behind closed doors, which will be an unusual spectacle for hardcore fans who are used to buzzing stadium environments. The good news is that you can expect all games to be broadcast as usual, with Amazon Prime Video, BBC Sport and Sky Sports all pledging to make specific matches free-to-air.
In the United States, Major League Soccer (MLS) teams have been cleared to restart training, as long as players commit to strict testing policies. MLS has been out of action in the US since March. Whilst the outlook is bright for getting players back onto the field, there are still no concrete dates as to when the league will officially commence again.
Globally, the Bundesliga was the first major football league to restart amidst the pandemic (Saturday the 16th of May). As expected, it was behind closed doors – with stringent regulations on personnel numbers inside stadiums and, of course, social distancing. Borussia Dortmund are used to the roar of 80,000 fans on a typical match day, which was recently replaced with echoing claps and relative silence accompanying their 4-0 lead against FC Schalke.
Boxing is poised to return to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Tuesday the 9th of June with an exciting Top Rank card. A couple of months ago, the same historic venue saw Tyson Fury take on Deontay Wilder for the second time in front of a sold-out crowd and record PPV buys. This time, there will be no fans in the stands. The focus is strictly PPV.
Bob Arum’s Top Rank is leading the charge in the return of professional boxing cards to our screens, but they are not alone. Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing is speculated to return in July with Matchroom Fight Camp, and Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions have postponed Daniel Dubois v Joe Joyce until Saturday the 11th of July.
Major League Baseball (MLB)
Unfortunately, we enter June with no clear roadmap for MLB to return. MLB itself exists as a private industry, and so a return doesn’t simply rely on improved pandemic-based health and safety regulations. Economic factors are at play here – empty ballparks mean huge comparative losses for owners, who will likely rely on player salary cuts to make do. You will see rumours circulating about heavily-subsidised seasons, with a 40-60 game schedule being the most feasible option going forwards.
The National Basketball Association (NBA)
Friday the 31st of July – that’s the tentative date for the scheduled return of the NBA across the US. The return of professional Basketball will take on a 22-team format. Of course, this also means that the 2020 NBA Lottery and Draft will be pushed back – likely to to take place on the 25th of August and the 15th of October respectively. If all goes to plan, the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando will be utilised for training, games and housing for the remainder of the season.
What does this mean for Live Sports Streaming and Broadcasting?
At such an unusual time, with no live sports to keep fans entertained, sports streaming platforms and rights holders have resorted to exploring different routes to maintain subscriptions and keep the content flowing. Some have resorted to paused subscription fees, whilst others have continuously committed to providing worthwhile content, despite the lack of live sport.
One such route includes a significant uptick in the amount of sports-based documentaries airing. For example, The Last Dance has proved a worldwide hit on Netflix during lockdown, which focuses on Michael Jordan’s late 80’s career at the Chicago Bulls. Whilst arguably not as exciting and relevant as live sports, poignant documentaries can score big amongst on-demand streaming providers who can market them effectively.
With a large proportion of staff working at home within lockdowns, how does this alternative, worthwhile sports content get produced and broadcasted? That’s where Remote Broadcasting comes in.
Remote broadcasting has been the huge focus point in the last few months. The ability to produce and create content away from the editing suites and master control rooms has been tested for a number of sports broadcasters. Remote Playout options like cloud-based Cosmos Energy and AirBox Mega are experiencing record numbers of deployments across the world as broadcasters work to employ reliable, trusted solutions to keep audiences entertained whilst crews and staff observe social distancing. Remote broadcasting will shape the future for broadcasters in light of such uncertain times.