Rising COVID-19 cases across the U.S. around the increasing prominence of the Delta variant are now leading to some changes for ESPN’s planned road programming. Specifically, debate show First Take was initially supposed to be live from Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta on Friday, Aug. 27 ahead of the Week 0 Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge Kickoff between North Carolina Central and Alcorn State on Saturday, Aug. 28 (which College GameDay was also going to be at on Saturday morning), and was supposed to do some further road shows in the following weeks, including in Memphis on Sept. 10 ahead of the Southern Heritage Classic (the Sept. 11 game between Tennessee State and Jackson State). That latter event’s feed passed along a First Take statement Monday about canceling all planned road shows:
— Southern Heritage Classic (@ClassicMemphis) August 9, 2021
It’s certainly interesting to see ESPN make that move, and to see them do it weeks ahead of when the event was going to take place. But on-site operations do require advance planning, and it’s notable that First Take‘s remote broadcasts have usually been from indoor venues, which carry more of an infection risk. So it makes some sense to pull these.
The interesting thing to watch is going to be what happens with College GameDay, where the road element is much more important. Panelist Lee Corso told AA in 2016 “I think the secret of College GameDay is when we went on the road” (beginning in 1993), and most would agree with him. The live-on-location aspect of GameDay has been such a big thing over the years, leading to even countless breakdowns of what cities the show might go to and stories about where they choose to go to.
It’s notable that GameDay continued to do road trips even during most of last year’s pandemic-altered season (they didn’t do a Week 0 show at all, and their Week 1 show was from studios and hosts’ homes, but the rest of the year had them on-site). By contrast, SEC Network’s SEC Nation went to studio and home studio only last year, despite also being an outside-based show. But despite the challenges, GameDay continued with on-location broadcasts throughout the 2020 season. And AA has learned that College GameDay still plans to be on site in Atlanta for Week 0, and on site at various CFB locations for further broadcasts in following weeks. We’ll see if that plan comes to fruition. For the moment, it’s certainly notable to see ESPN cancelling First Take‘s planned road shows, even if that doesn’t lead to further cancellations elsewhere.