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Highlights and throwbacks: The new sports scenario

In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, major local and international sports leagues have suspended all their matches and events. Most tournament officials opted to either completely cancel the ongoing season or postpone games to a later, unspecified date.

With the lack of fresh content, sports channels and media have found new ways to keep fans around the world entertained and active by releasing footage of classic showdowns and posting home workout challenges. Famous associations in and out of the country are coming up with various creative methods to ensure that athletes and supporters remain connected.

Now more than ever, both social media and broadcasting channels have been collectively working together to meaningfully engage viewers around the world. Amid the uncertainty of their return, online and mass media as well as sports teams themselves created avenues to encourage supporters to remain fit and inspired while staying at home, allowing sports to become one of many ways for people to cope during these difficult times.

Sports media sans sports

It seems as though this pandemic has put the globe’s rotation into a screeching halt with everybody quarantined in their respective homes for safety, but the ball stays rolling in the world of sports—or at least, a semblance of it, given these unprecedented circumstances.

Being an entertainment powerhouse that is typically complemented by a substantial amount of people in crowds, sports broadcasting in the time of COVID-19 requires no meager amount of creativity to keep fans satisfied. Among others, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has been at the forefront of that department.

About a week after suspending the 2019-2020 NBA season, the league decided to make NBA League Pass accessible for everyone until April 22, a well-calculated move by the NBA to simultaneously advocate for COVID-19 stay-at-home measures while showcasing the value of subscribing to the said service with its collection of match replays and highlight reels.

The NBA also made a point to use the power of social media, dishing out almost daily servings of legendary NBA games through livestreams on YouTube and Facebook. Additionally, the player-fan interaction stayed alive through mini-tournaments of H.O.R.S.E. and NBA 2K in an amiable effort to maintain the morale of the fans during these trying times.

Having witnessed this stroke of genius from the NBA, other sports giants have followed suit to keep fans engaged while community lockdowns are in place. The National Football League (NFL) reopened the NFL Red Zone, an incredibly popular league channel that was set to broadcast the NFL’s 2019 games. The English Premier League, meanwhile, hosted a FIFA 20 tournament as select footballers put their video game skills to the test.

The Olympic Games, befallen with the decision to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to next year, also decided to turn to social media for sports enthusiasts to feast on reruns of memorable Olympic performances. On the media’s side, ESPN continued most of its regular shows, keeping its biggest personalities such as Brian Windhorst, Stephen A. Smith, and Rachel Nichols on air.

In the Philippine sports scene, two of the country’s biggest leagues joined in on efforts to provide local sports enthusiasts something to cling to. The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) broadcasted reruns of past games on its official channel, the PBA Rush. At the collegiate level, the UAAP, in partnership with ABS-CBN Sports+Action, offered memorable basketball and volleyball broadcasts as consolation for canceling the second half of Season 82. Additionally, some Filipino sports media figures also took to podcasting, inviting collegiate and professional players and coaches, as a way to ease the fans’ hunkering for sports content.

Outside the arena

Even with the lack of the usual sporting tournaments, players and fans have come together to keep the sports world breathing. Living through this pandemic, athletes and their fans have stayed in touch with player-to-fan workout plans—keeping the shooting arms hot, the sprinting legs fast, and the golden boots prepped for the goal.

With the NBA being off the court for now, players like Jamal Murray and Langston Galloway posted basketball drills and workouts online to promote physical fitness. Technology clearly played a huge role for those with access; the Homecourt mobile app, for instance, provided artificial intelligence tracking of missed versus converted shots, positioning, and other data to help backyard or driveway ballers practice.

Elsewhere in the sporting world, NFL teams like the Denver Broncos encouraged viewers to join their FIT Challenges and maintain an active lifestyle. Even Sourdough Sam, team mascot of the San Francisco 49ers, has been taking part in the PREP workout series.

Athletes and fans alike took on several challenges and showcased their tricks and techniques—such as scoring the perfect free kick to the top corner of the net, or mastering one’s swing in make-shift tennis courts.

Quarantine quizzes also became popular with viewers, with new episodes streamed on the BBC Sport YouTube channel every Friday. Truly a sporting fanatic challenge, the quizzes cater to fans of different sports, from those with larger followings like basketball and football to the less popular yet equally important ones like bowling.

Locally, UAAP teams like the Green Archers have taken part in Zoom workouts since training grounds are closed for everyone. The Green Tankers, meanwhile, collaborated to produce a Quaranteam workout video to help supporters and athletes maintain their physique. The Philippine Taekwondo Association was also immersed in online training sessions to sustain the martial arts scene in the country.

Calculating the aftermath

Weeks after the suspension announcements, several foreign leagues have resumed or are gearing up for a return behind closed doors, with strong testing efforts and other health protocols implemented to ensure safety.

The Philippines’ eased quarantine measures have also lifted restrictions: sports with limited contact are now allowed under General Community Quarantine. Badminton and tennis fanatics can return to the court, while golfers can bring back the greens—with a cautious emphasis still on following health standards like physical distancing, mask wearing, and hand hygiene. For team sports like basketball and football, though, it probably would take more time before getting back to the hardwood and field under the “new normal”.

There is a Filipino saying along the lines of “Bilog ang bola”, signifying the aspect of unpredictability in the world of sports. For every sporting tournament, there are overwhelming favorites and there are underwhelming duds, yet time and again, sports fans are treated to Cinderella stories and thrilling upsets.

For all we know, sports culture could be entirely different post COVID-19: the way it is broadcasted, the public clamor, the sports fan dynamic, the athlete interaction—maybe even all of this in chorus. One thing is for certain, however, and that is the ability of sports to bring people together, quarantined or not.

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