Over the weekend, ESPN was supposed to have its networks jam-packed with college basketball conference tournaments.
This coming weekend, CBS, Turner and ESPN were set to be flooded with men’s and women’s NCAA tournament games.
The week after that, YES and SNY were ready to kick off their Yankees and Mets regular-season coverage with Opening Day.
But by Friday, as reality set in that all professional and collegiate sporting events had been suspended or canceled in the wake of coronavirus spreading across the country, the networks were all suddenly scrambling for programming to fill the major void.
What will sports networks look like without live sports?
ESPN filled Saturday’s open air time with reruns of UFC 246 around one of the last live events left — UFC Fight Night: Lee vs. Oliveira in Brazil. Sunday, its new schedule featured a marathon of “30-for-30” films beginning at noon while ESPN2 showed some of the best college basketball games of the season.
“Our programming team is hard at work to fill the holes on our networks for the days ahead,” ESPN vice president of communications Josh Krulewitz tweeted Friday afternoon.
Helping ESPN fill the void is NFL free agency, which the network is providing special coverage off over the next three afternoons. The network will air encores of some of its free-agency programs at night.
ESPN on ABC also has weekend afternoons to fill with the XFL season canceled. Saturday, the network replaced it with two “30-for-30” films. Sunday’s scheduled game was replaced by episodes of “College Football 150.”
Between CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV, all 67 games of the men’s NCAA tournament were set to be broadcast from March 17-April 6. ESPN was scheduled to broadcast all 63 games of the women’s NCAA tournament from March 20-April 5 over its networks.
CBS is set to return those programming hours back to normal day-parts made up of news, local, daytime and primetime shows. Saturday and Sunday — when it was supposed to be airing Big Ten and Atlantic 10 tournament games — it showed some of the conferences’ old championship games.
On a local level, MSG has plenty of hours to fill with the Knicks, Rangers, Islanders and Devils all sidelined. It plans on airing a mix of the four teams’ most memorable games from this season in addition to classic games dating back to the 1980s.
YES and SNY had a handful of spring training games left to broadcast before the almost-daily regular-season games began. As of Friday they were still working through how to make up for that.
“Until games are resumed, we will be evaluating our programming options,” the YES Network said in a statement. “In the meantime, we will continue simulcasting The Michael Kay Show while also drawing upon our extensive library of award-winning original programming.”
MLB Network and NHL Network will each continue to air one live program a day — “MLB Tonight” at 6 p.m. and “NHL Tonight” at 7 p.m. The rest of its schedule for the next week will be made up of the networks’ documentaries and reruns of original programming.
NBC looked like it might still have The Players Championship and Premier League games to broadcast live until they were some of the last events to be canceled. Instead, NBC aired the 2019 Players Championship on Saturday and Sunday.
“NBC Sports’ replacement programming on NBC, NBCSN, and Golf Channel will include encore presentations of events, specials and feature programming across NBC Sports properties, including Olympics, NHL, Premier League, IndyCar, NASCAR, golf, rugby, figure skating, skiing and snowboarding, as well as live sports news from Sky Sports News,” an NBC Sports spokesperson said in an email.
Fox Sports put its studio shows on hiatus through at least next Friday. But it planned on digging into its library of evergreen programs from its properties — including MLB, NASCAR, college basketball and football and Premier Boxing Champions — to show classic games, matches and races in addition to documentaries.