ESPN had a huge day of sports across their family of networks.
The NBA playoffs, PGA Championship, UFC, boxing, the NCAA softball tournament, Monaco F1 qualifying, and more all filled up the schedule across linear and digital channels alike. That’s obviously a good thing! This is a great time on the sports calendar. The only downside, of course, is that sometimes a packed schedule means certain events might run into other events.
That’s exactly what happened tonight, and it forced ESPN to bump half the first quarter of an NBA playoff game to ESPN2. It’s not necessarily unusual that would happen; during college basketball season, tickers are constantly running to let viewers know where the game they tuned in for is actually airing (usually while Indiana is losing a Big Ten road game in place of what everyone actually wants to see.)
ESPN’s boxing card tonight was legitimately a great one, headlined by an undisputed junior welterweight title match between two undefeated fighters. But while fans of the sweet science were probably loving the contest (Taylor scored the win and became just the sixth men’s undisputed champion in the four-belt era), the fight went the distance.
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) May 23, 2021
That was a theme for the whole card, with five fights requiring the scorecards leading up to the main event. That meant ESPN lost all margin, and the 10:30 Eastern tip time for Denveer-Portland became impossible. ESPN did what they could; a network obviously can’t cut out from the title fight main event. That would be absurd. Instead, the Nuggets and Blazers were sent to ESPN2 and the app.
— Cassidy Hubbarth (@CassidyHubbarth) May 23, 2021
This obviously didn’t prevent people from turning on the game and being displeased:
The Blazers and Nuggets getting bumped for boxing. Next week, they'll be bumped for a "Monday Night RAW" replay.
— Chris Walder (@WalderSports) May 23, 2021
Feels like this boxing match and the Nuggets-Blazers playoff game could’ve been synchronized a little better.
— Matt Schubert (@MattDSchubert) May 23, 2021
Blazers Nuggets fans watching boxing right now… pic.twitter.com/XuMp0MPP1f
— Zen Blazedogs (@blazedogs) May 23, 2021
(Related: it’s been a tough couple of days for Denver fans in terms of playoff broadcasting issues.)
In the end, ESPN rejoined coverage after nearly six minutes of the quarter. Hopefully most people found their way to the right spot. The only real downside: anyone who missed the start and was hoping to catch up or watch the game on DVR may have been pretty annoyed when they pressed play after the fact. Especially because they missed half of a very fun start:
might be the most fun quarter of the day so far. Jokic emptying the clip of NBA Street Gamebreaker post moves on Enes Kanter while Carmelo Anthony is giving Denver buckets like it's 2009, all while Jamal Murray is halfway onto the court cheering/trying to play in street clothes.
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) May 23, 2021
So, while some viewers were inconvenienced and others potentially saw their DVR plan ruined, there’s not much ESPN could really do. Top Rank Boxing is clearly a deal they like, and combat sports in general have been a big driver to ESPN+’s early success. (The main event might end up outdrawing this late NBA game, anyway.)
And building in extra time after a boxing card is dangerous in the other direction; had that string of decisions been a run of early stoppages, ESPN would have had to fill a huge chunk of air. (This was the exact plot of a Sports Night episode, and Aaron Sorkin would never embellish anything.) It’s television, sometimes things happen.