Apr 28, 2020 - Sports

ESPN leans into reruns to satisfy anxious baseball fans

Illustration: Axios/Sarah Grillo

With the future of the 2020 baseball season still unknown, ESPN is relying on reruns of classic games, including a May 12 telecast focused on Derek Jeter, executives tell Axios.

Why it matters: ESPN sees value in re-airing classics, especially with mega-stars. Without live sports, it's the closest thing the network can offer to baseball fans, who tend to be older and less likely to tune into alternatives like eSports.

Details: The Jeter game will be subject to a fan vote as part of ESPN’s MLB Encore Tuesdays series.

  • There will be a poll on ESPN.com starting next Monday with a handful of Jeter’s most significant games.
  • The winning game will air at 7 p.m. ET.
  • Jeter, who is headlining the National Baseball Hall of Fame class this year, remains one of the most popular MLB personalities.

The big picture: Specialized programming around stars or historic games allows the network to build new content, like interviews with athletes, or fan engagement polls, which ESPN will be leveraging for its Jeter special.

  • ESPN is airing on Tuesday the 2003 American League Championship Series Game 7 between the Yankees and Red Sox. That game was made famous when Aaron Boone, a former ESPN analyst and current Yankees manager, hit the game-winning home run. 
  • Boone will join ESPN’s digital show “BBTN Live” (Baseball Tonight Live), which leads into the MLB Encore Tuesdays show.  BBTN Live is available on ESPN’s Twitter, YouTube and the ESPN App.

Between the lines: ESPN launched the “BBTN Live” show on digital platforms tied to the MLB Encore Tuesdays to build shoulder programming around the classic game re-airs. Special guests have included Cal Ripken Jr, Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez.

What's next: The network is trying to offer baseball fans alternatives across all of its platforms.

  • ESPN Radio is re-airing classic World Series games from the past decade every Saturday night.
  • It's launched Tim Kurkjian's daily “Baseball Fix,” a video series in which the popular ESPN commentators tells the best story in baseball from that date in history.
  • It's still running "Baseball Tonight," a baseball podcast hosted by Buster Olney.

Our thought bubble: Sports can have a second life if they are made relevant through new commentary, interviews or reflections.

  • ESPN is experiencing that success right now through its classics strategy, but also through some of its documentaries, like The Last Dance.
  • These nostalgia plays can sometimes are more effective engaging fans right now than other forms of content, like HORSE competitions.
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