On Monday night, ESPN is airing a Marvel-themed alternate NBA broadcast of the Golden State Warriors-New Orleans Pelicans game on ESPN2 and ESPN+, but the standard game feed is still available on ESPN. On Tuesday, they’re going one step further in corporate synergy with other Disney-owned properties, turning their entire regular MLB feed of the Houston Astros-New York Yankees game on ESPN into a Star Wars theme. That will include having the commentators dressed in Star Wars costumes, plus a discussion of “MLB names with Star Wars ties.” Here’s more on that from ESPN’s release:
ESPN’s Major League Baseball coverage for the week ahead will feature several highlights, including the Star Wars-themed telecast on Tuesday, May 4, when the New York Yankees host the Houston Astros at 7:30 p.m. ET. The Star Wars-themed telecast is in celebration of “May the fourth” and will feature ESPN commentators dressed in full costume as Star Wars characters, plus custom on-screen animations. Karl Ravech, dressed as Luke Skywalker, will provide commentary with analysts Tim Kurkjian (as Yoda) and Eduardo Perez (as a Jawa). Marly Rivera will report from Yankee Stadium.
Kurkjian and ESPN commentator and resident Star Wars expert Clinton Yates will share MLB names with Star Wars ties, and Kurkjian will highlight his favorite FORCE plays of all-time. Host Steve Levy (dressed as Darth Vader) will anchor studio highlights during the game.
What’s particularly notable about this is that most of the themed broadcasts so far, whether that be Marvel, Daily Wager, Statcast, or the unconventional MegaCast feeds, have aired on alternate ESPN channels and/or digital feeds. That’s seemed to provide a best-of-both-worlds approach; those intrigued by the new thing can go check it out, and can return to the usual broadcast if they don’t like the alternate one, while those who prefer the conventional broadcast don’t have to do anything different than normal. (And unlike with Turner’s TeamStream NCAA approach, it’s been easy to identify the alternate feeds, as they’ve aired on significantly less prominent channels.)
By contrast, this Star Wars-themed broadcast appears to be inescapable for those watching on ESPN, like a tractor beam or The Maw. This isn’t an exclusive Sunday night game, though, so those who have local access to YES or AT&T SportsNet Southwest should be able to watch those networks’ non-Star Wars coverage if they want.
Making an alternate broadcast like this your primary feed carries potential for both risk and reward. It will certainly get this feed in front of a lot more eyeballs than your average alternate broadcast on ESPN2 would, and it’s maybe the biggest dive ESPN has made into Star Wars corporate synergy so far; even the Top 10 Lightsaber Duels wasn’t this blatant or protracted, and trailer releases are just trailer releases. So this is certainly going to get a lot of attention. But that can be both good and bad, especially as many of the people likely to turn this on may not know in advance about the quirky theme, and may be looking just to watch Astros-Yankees. How are they going to feel about commentators in costume and discussions of “MLB names with Star Wars ties”? We’ll find out Tuesday night.