ESPN reveals how it will move forward without live sports during coronavirus, including 'stunt event programming'

Key Points
  • ESPN is working on getting the rights to air full classic games creatively packaged together to make mini-marathons of programming.
  • The network will try to balance goals of keeping sports fans informed with breaking news and delivering "stunt event programming" for broader entertainment.
  • ESPN can't push up the broadcast date for its Michael Jordan documentary "The Last Dance" until production is complete, ESPN executive Burke Magnus said.
Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls (L) eyes the basket as he is guarded by Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers during their 01 February game in Los Angeles, CA.
Vince Bucci | AFP | Getty Images

Disney's ESPN released its first details on how it plans to fill programming on its networks with collegiate and professional sports canceled during the coronavirus outbreak, including airing classic games and "stunt event programming,"

ESPN published a transcript of an interview between Burke Magnus, executive vice president of programming acquisitions and scheduling, and Front Row, a website dedicated to the internal workings of ESPN. 

Magnus explained that ESPN has two goals for planning future programming: The first is to continue to cover the active sports world, such as coronavirus effects and NFL free agency. The second goal is "aimed at looking ahead to entertain fans through fun, compelling archival content and/or themed and stunt event programming that will provide a diversion at a time that there are virtually no other live sports to watch," he said.

While ESPN hasn't made decisions about what "stunt event programming" it has in mind, Magnus referred to "ESPN8: The Ocho," an annual event ESPN has run on ESPN2 as a takeoff of the movie "Dodgeball," where events such as "Acrobatic Pizza Trials" and "Cherry Pit Spitting" have been packaged together to create a makeshift tournament of oddball events.

Other ideas could include a marathon of consecutive games from a certain sport or team, perhaps tied to the day the games were actually played, or a collection of games and events tied to a certain holiday, such as best Memorial Day baseball games, according to people familiar with the matter.

ESPN is currently in discussions with leagues about the right to air classic games, Magnus said.

"Re-airing full-game presentations is not a right that we or other media companies typically have at our disposal at all times," Magnus said. "Each one of these circumstances requires individual conversations with the specific league or property to determine what's possible."

"We are working with the leagues themselves to free up the possibility to show encore presentations and discussing how we can present them. In some instances, we aren't even the original rightsholder, which is the case for the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament, for example. Event programming will continue to be supplemented by ESPN live studio and news programming, plus original shows and films."

Michael Jordan documentary

ESPN has been planning to broadcast its highly anticipated Michael Jordan documentary "The Last Dance" in June. While the network would like to move up "any original content project that we can," Magnus said "The Last Dance" hasn't been completed yet, so ESPN has to wait until the documentary is finished to set a new air date.

The Jordan documentary is scheduled to be a 10-part series that has promised to tell the "untold stories of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls." 

The Jordan documentary could be a ratings hit for ESPN similar to 2016's "O.J.: Made in America," a five-part series that won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 2017 Academy Awards.

WATCH: NCAA canceling March Madness the responsible thing to do: ESPN's Bilas

NCAA canceling March Madness the responsible thing to do: ESPN's Bilas
NCAA canceling March Madness the responsible thing to do: ESPN's Bilas