🎉 Happy Friday! Let's sports.
Today's word count: 2,167 words (8 minutes).
Without live sports, one of the only ways for athletes to reach cooped-up fans during the coronavirus pandemic is directly through social media.
Driving the news: Bored athletes have taken to Instagram and other platforms to share casual quarantine moments, host livestreams with other athletes, post daily workouts and even interview health experts.
"Many of the athletes we work with are doubling down on their own productions — including setting up professional livestreams and building in-home podcast studios."— Nate Houghteling, co-founder of content agency Portal A
Between the lines: All athletes are "celebrities," but some are better-equipped than others to keep fans engaged while the sports world sits idle — and a select few have the resources necessary to essentially operate like their own media companies right now.
By the numbers: We compared the Instagram follower counts of the most recent All-Star starters in the four major U.S. sports. The difference between the NBA and the three other leagues is almost as shocking as the difference between LeBron James and everyone else.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
After a six-year stalemate that saw almost half of Southern California blacked out from watching Dodgers games, Spectrum Networks finally reached a deal with AT&T to carry SportsNet LA, the team's regional sports network.
The backdrop: Millions of Dodgers fans have been unable to watch games on SportsNet LA since 2014, depriving them of six straight NL West titles, two World Series trips and one farewell tour for the great Vin Scully.
The big picture: "And so began one of the longest-running, greed-driven, let's-take-fans-for-granted debacles in American sports history," writes Steve Lopez for the L.A. Times.
What they're saying: I texted two L.A. natives for their reaction to this long-awaited deal, which still leaves customers of Dish Network and other providers out in the cold, but bodes well for them eventually getting the channel.
What to watch: L.A. isn't the only city where a significant number of fans have been — or might soon be — blacked out from watching games. A few examples:
Go deeper: The appeal of regional sports networks (Axios)
Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte. Photo: Tim Warner/Getty Images
Athletic departments are reeling from the loss of conference tournament and March Madness revenues and could face a financial crisis in the coming months, especially if the football season is canceled.
Driving the news: More than 100 ADs at FBS universities were surveyed on their concerns, plans and goals in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
What to watch: Iowa State just announced that nearly everyone in the athletic department will take a one-year, 10% pay cut, and that coaches will suspend all bonuses and incentives for one year. Expect more schools to follow.
Go deeper: Inside the world of college sports financing (Axios)
25 years ago on Wednesday, ESPN.com launched to the world as "ESPNET SportsZone."
The backdrop: There were almost no established digital media businesses at the time and online fantasy sports wasn't even a thing. When ESPN.com first came to life, the site didn't even have editors.
"To deliver what sports fans wanted, we had to invent technology and platforms that didn't yet exist. Things that seem so obvious today, like ad servers, content management systems, caching servers, personalization, online video (over dial-up!), the first digital fantasy platform."— Disney exec Aaron LaBerge, who worked on the site
Flashback: ESPN.com homepage on Saturday, Jan. 18, 1996...
🎾 A summer with no slams (Brian Phillips, The Ringer)
"The tennis schedule has not been spared the desolation wreaked by the coronavirus. But perhaps no other sport features so many epic champions at the late stages of their careers."
⚾️ An activist and a bookworm, Nationals' Sean Doolittle is the conscience of baseball (Emma Baccellieri, SI)
"Doolittle has had the same in-season routine for a few years now — after a game, at home or in his hotel room, he reads for an hour or two before bed. ... It's a relatively small part of his day. But it's become crucial to his relationship with baseball and with himself."
⛳️ Golf's truck drivers have tales of cracked clubs, late-night rides and food poisoning (Tom VanHaaren, ESPN)
"When the PGA Tour suspended activities because of the coronavirus, it halted what is affectionately known as golf's traveling circus. Approximately 12 near-semi-sized trucks operated by equipment manufacturers drive from tournament to tournament ... building, adjusting and maintaining the equipment for the tour players."
31 years ago today, the Michigan Wolverines beat the Seton Hall Pirates in overtime, 80-79, to capture their first and only national championship.
Game rewind: The story should have been about Seton Hall's comeback in regulation and Michigan's chance for a title-winning buzzer beater in OT. Instead, as happens far too frequently, the refs took center stage when the game mattered most.
Player to remember: Michigan SG Glen Rice.
"Since our high school wanted us to learn stuff for some reason, a lot of flash game websites were banned on our school WiFi," SB Nation's Kofie Yeboah writes:
How to play: Crunchball 3000 is a combination of soccer, rugby and hockey. The objective of the game is to score more goals than your opponent.
From 1974 to 1993, the NHL had two conferences — the Prince of Wales Conference and the Clarence Campbell Conference — each with two divisions.
Answer at the bottom.
Thanks for all the submissions! Will have more next week.
Sasha in Marion, Massachusetts, writes: This is the view from my window at Tabor Academy. The faculty are still living in our apartments in our dorms with our own children but the campus is eerily quiet.
Julian in Sintra, Portugal (View from my balcony on a beautiful day!).
Brent in Penticton, British Columbia.
Jake in Austin, Texas (It ain't much but the plants make a nice difference!).
Enjoy the weekend,
Kendall "Hey Julian in Portugal, I'm coming to visit" Baker
Trivia answer: Adams, Patrick, Norris, Smythe