Eyebrows were raised when news broke that CBS would be simulcasting an NFL playoff game on Nickelodeon earlier this year, complete with the graphics and effects expected from a network that caters to a young age group. Besides the fact that the violent foundation of football does not exactly mesh with the bright colors and innocent fun of Nick, there were questions about the ability to seamlessly infuse a football broadcast with enough flashing lights to keep the 7-12 age group entertained while actually keeping it a sports broadcast.
Ultimately, it went pretty well. There were some issues that were expected given it was the first broadcast of its kind, but the announcing team of Noah Eagle and Nate Burleson killed it on air while the special effects teams behind the scenes did a great job executing. Who knows if it created any new lifelong football fans still in elementary school, but CBS proved that combining sports and the lighthearted attitude of a network for children into a production worthy of a national broadcast was possible.
Inevitably, someone else was going to try something similar. ESPN will do just that on May 3, one week from today. When the New Orleans Pelicans and Golden State Warriors face off in what could be a rather important matchup from a playoff seeding perspective, ESPN 2, ESPN+, and ESPN Deportes will air an alternate broadcast dubbed "NBA Special Edition Presented by State Farm: Marvel’s Arena of Heroes Alternate Presentation."
You read that correctly. ESPN will try to incorporate their parent company's most successful movie franchise into a basketball broadcast.
How will they do that? Here's what the PR release says:
The latest development in Marvel and ESPN’s long history of sports content collaboration, the telecast will integrate elements from an original Marvel story and iconic characters including Iron Man, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Captain America, Black Widow, and Doctor Strange throughout the live game, including 3D virtual characters, custom graphics and animation packages.
And for those who are really into the whole thing, here's the narrative backstory that drives the inclusion of the above characters.
After a narrow victory over an invading alien army, the Avengers receive an ominous threat from the enemy who vows to return in greater numbers and force. The Black Panther and Iron Man quickly realize they will need more help and form a plan to expand their ranks to fight this impending threat. Recognizing the superior physical abilities, agility, and tenacity of Earth’s greatest athletes, the Avengers will hold a series of contests where the winners earn the right to train and fight alongside them as Marvel’s Champions! The Avengers will begin their recruitment with the NBA elite and observe the battle between the Warriors and the Pelicans, focusing on three star players from each team.
Hmm. That seems... interesting? I guess if ESPN is going to do the thing, they may as well lean all the way into it.
The Marvel broadcast will be called by Ryan Ruocco and Richard Jefferson. If anything, ESPN nailed that particular choice. Jefferson will have the time of his life if he really leans into the theme and Ruocco has proven to be an excellent foil to Jefferson's jokes and joshes.
It's also fitting that the game they chose features two players who may as well be from another planet in Stephen Curry and Zion Williamson. I'm sure the rocket boosters on Zion's new shoes will be an enjoyable experience on replays.
This is interesting in a different way than the Nickelodeon broadcast because Disney is trying to incorporate their most successful properties into an NBA game. The NFL did something similar by including Spongebob in the pregame and whatnot, but ESPN is specifically tailoring the broadcast to include the properties instead of making it a special element. If their attempt gets even average reviews, where will the buck stop? Will the next primetime game feature The Mandalorian characters? Will they start hosting broadcasts on Disney+ with Cinderella? I'm not saying that would be bad, necessarily. But if people like the Marvel broadcast, especially those with a cable subscription watching on ESPN 2, the floodgates could open.
I'll tune in. I like the MCU and I like basketball. I appear to be the target audience for this. So garnering interest on my end means it's already a mild success.