If you’re old enough to remember it, it’s quite a challenge to explain SlamBall, the short-lived trampoline basketball league that debuted on TNN (it’s been so long, TNN has been rebranded twice to SpikeTV and now Paramount Network). The elevator pitch would probably be something like “basketball but because the court is nearly all trampolines almost all of the possessions end in a ridiculous dunk or massive collision.” Below is a taste.
We get some of our childhood back as SlamBall is making a comeback in July after a 20+ year absence pic.twitter.com/AqoXyw88Qg
— Jomboy Media (@JomboyMedia) March 21, 2023
Does this make any sense? Is it safe? Does it matter?
SlamBall had two seasons in 2002 and 2003 and while not fully dormant, the sport has been mostly holding one-off events, international reboots, or plotting a full season comeback. With $11 million in funding from high-powered group of investors that include Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils co-owner David Adelman and Fanatics chief executive Michael Rubin, that comeback is now here with ESPN reaching a rights deal with the league. Per ESPN:
SlamBall, the fast-paced, gravity-defying sport that combines elements of basketball, football, hockey and trampolines, today announced an exclusive, two-year national broadcast partnership with ESPN for the 2023 and 2024 seasons. The partnership begins on Opening Night, as SlamBall relaunches live from Las Vegas on July 21 from 7-9 p.m. EDT. ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN+ will combine to air more than 30 hours of live SlamBall programming across five weekends, culminating August 17-19 with the SlamBall Playoffs and SlamBall Championship Game. All games will be played at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, with ticket sales beginning on June 27.
“ESPN’s multi-year commitment to SlamBall is further validation of the enormous appeal and growth potential of our sport,” said SlamBall creator and CEO Mason Gordon. “The level of interest in our hybrid team sport not just in the U.S., but across the world, has been beyond our expectations for the 2023 season. It’s clear that this is the best talent we have had in the sport’s history.”
“Mason and I couldn’t help but respond to the #BringBackSlamBall clamor,” said SlamBall co-founder Mike Tollin. “Live sports dominate the airwaves these days and audiences are looking for the next big thing. It’s a thrill to collaborate with ESPN in bringing this ground-breaking sport back to the world.”
I mean why not?
ESPN and other channels and streamers are very thirsty for sports content, especially the months when there is no football, and especially the summer months when basketball is also in the offseason. 3 on 3 basketball, spring and summer football, dudes slapping each other, etc. The bottom line is it’s much easier to sell a new sports concept today than it was ten years ago as subscription streaming options give networks more of a chance make money off a smaller property that perhaps could grow to become a sizable draw for them.
SlamBall has built in awareness. It existed before viral highlights and social media was really a thing. Its season is pretty much at the peak of the slow times of the sports calendar. By getting a deal with ESPN, SlamBall gets a big win as from an awareness and promotion standpoint, ESPN can drive a lot more viewership. ESPN shared in their press release that more details would come later in terms of announcers, platforms, and scheduling. Below is a promotional video from ESPN.
SLAMBALL IS BACK.
— SlamBall (@SlamBall) June 21, 2023
This could easily be something that returns and people get the nostalgia out of their system after ten minutes or perhaps, this is something that successfully eats innings for ESPN and grows over time. At first glance, it seems like a good fit and something to keep an eye on.