The flagship ESPN network will air the regular telecast of the Golden State Warriors-New Orleans Pelicans matchup. ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and streaming service ESPN+ will carry the Marvel-ized version.
Synergy has long existed between the NBA and Disney, a longtime rights holder. The media company last year created a “bubble” site at its ESPN Wide World of Sports complex near Orlando, FL. The facility allowed the NBA to complete its pandemic-interrupted 2019-20 season.
The alternate broadcast on May 3 will integrate elements from an original Marvel story and characters including Iron Man, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Captain America, Black Widow and Doctor Strange. Characters will appear throughout the game via 3D technology, custom graphics and animation packages.
Viewers will be encouraged to collect “Marvel Hero Points” based on the actual performances of three players on each team. For the Warriors, Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins will be the Marvel trio, with the Pelicans contributing Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball to the effort.
State Farm is sponsoring the special broadcast, which will be the second live NBA game ever carried on the three-year-old ESPN+.
ESPN’s Ryan Ruocco and Richard Jefferson will provide commentary in a studio at the sports brand’s Bristol, CT home base that a press release describes as “fully customized” and “Marvel-themed.” Also on tap will be commentary and analysis from Angélique Roché, a journalist and media personality who is billed as an expert on Marvel.
Several networks have experimented with various new alternative forms of live sports broadcasts, and the willingness to try them is growing as TV ratings decline. The NBA has been among the major sports leagues to see a significantly downturn in terms of tune-in during the coronavirus pandemic, though this month has perked up a bit.
Most of the alternative broadcasts share a common goal of appealing to younger fans. ViacomCBS aired a simulcast of an NFL playoff game last January on Nickelodeon, which featured a number of in-game features like the network’s trademark green slime. Fantasy sports, analytics and videogames have also fueled alternative broadcasts, some of which are routinely featured on platforms like Amazon Prime Video.