UPDATE: So, I’m an idiot (shock of all shocks there), and forgot to include the ESPN2 simulcast for Long Gone Summer in the viewership data below (which I did with both Lance and Be Water). That broadcast drew an addition 281,000 viewers, pushing the total for Long Gone Summer to 1.061 million viewers, ahead of each of the two previous docs. I’m leaving the rest of the post as is, even though many of my thoughts are now wholly irrelevant. I apologize for the inexcusable, inexplicable error, and vow to do better (though that’s no consolation) in the future.
The run of success ESPN had with 30 for 30 films over the last two months came to a screeching halt on Sunday night. Long Gone Summer, the 30 for 30 about the 1998 Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home run chase, drew just 775,000 viewers, lower than any episode of The Last Dance (of course), Lance, and Be Water.
For the record, Be Water drew 906,000 viewers on June 7th, while Lance drew 857,000 on both ESPN and ESPN2 for Part 1 on May 24th and 796,000 viewers for Part 2 across ESPN and ESPN2 on May 31st. Every episode of The Last Dance drew at least 4.9 million viewers.
If there is *some* good news for Long Gone Summer, it’s that the film did manage to outdraw several 30 for 30 films from 2019, including The Dominican Dream, Qualified, The Good, The Bad, The Hungry, and Chuck & Tito. Of those four, only Chuck & Tito even cracked the 500,000 viewer mark.
More than anything, I think the poor viewership for all of these docs (aside from The Last Dance) emphasizes that the question of “what will be the next Last Dance?” is a silly question. *Nothing* will be the next Last Dance. Given Jordan’s iconic status on and off the court, his lack of participation in anything remotely similar to The Last Dance, the aura and mystique he still possesses today, and the sheer amount of archival footage included in the project, it’s going to take something truly special to even approach those heights.
I think ESPN expected a viewership bump for the docs airing after The Last Dance based on the incredible numbers that series drew. Instead, I feel like it raised expectations, both for the films and the viewership of those films, and “standard 30 for 30 level” feels like a disappointment. Whatever direction ESPN decides to go in over the second half of the year will be interesting to keep an eye on, specifically whether or not we’ll be getting another chunk of 30 for 30 films in the fall, as we typically do each year.