I love watching sports, but these are busy times, and I’ve got quite a few entertainment options in front of me. Yes — I want to carve out time to follow as many sports as I can, but I also need to make time to watch all the shows and movies I want to see. Hopefully, I’m also managing to go for a walk once in a while too, you know? The point I’m trying to make is that there’s an endless amount of content vying for my valuable attention, so it’s always a pleasant surprise when something pops up that makes my decision-making process easier.
Recently, during March Madness’ 2022 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament’s Final Four, ESPN’s alternative broadcast option with Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird — they have been calling it the “Megacast” — was exactly that kind of thing. I found myself really looking forward to it. Viewers of the Megacast could watch Taurasi and Bird — two of the absolute legends of the past few decades of basketball history, who also still play the game at a high level — in tiny little boxes off to the side of the screen, while the game itself occupied the main focus.
Taurasi and Bird had on a series of guests — contemporary basketball greats like Breanna Stewart and LeBron James, retired Hall of Famers like Bill Walton and Kevin Garnett, and even Bird’s fiancée Megan Rapinoe — with whom they toasted with red solo cups of, well, something. They cracked jokes and provided excellent analysis of the games. It was really fun to watch, and I found myself tuning in to them instead of the regular broadcast just to hear what they had to say. That got me thinking: are these alternative sports broadcasts part of the future of how we watch sports?
What Is an Alternative Broadcast?
An alternative broadcast is a presentation of an event that runs simultaneously to the standard television presentation of that event. In this recent example, the broadcast with Taurasi and Bird ran on ESPN2 while the regular broadcast — featuring Ryan Ruocco, Rebecca Lobo, and Holly Rowe — ran on ESPN.
Recently, the NFL had a lot of success with their “Manningcast” — an alternate broadcast of ESPN’s Monday Night Football property that ran for 10 games this past season on ESPN2 and ESPN+. The Manningcast was a big hit, getting more eyeballs on an already incredibly popular event. In addition to the Megacast with Taurasi and Bird, this Sunday was the debut of ESPN’s occasional alternate broadcast of their Sunday Night Baseball coverage featuring Alex Rodriguez and Michael Kay (predictably, they are calling it “KayRod Cast”), and they’ve also aired Megacasts for College Football, too.
There are other examples of alternate broadcasts that aren’t as high-profile. The NBA runs occasional alternate feeds on NBA League Pass. One is “NBA Hoopervision,” featuring retired players Quentin Richardson and Jamal Crawford. Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux of the Dunc’d On Basketball Podcast have also occasionally broadcast games through the “Influencer Stream” on NBA League Pass. Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms also give users the opportunity to experiment with different small-scale ways of engaging with sports content live.
Are Alternative Broadcasts Good?
Your mileage may vary as far as how you feel about the quality of these broadcasts. Like standard sports broadcasts, some alternative broadcasts are better than others. I will admit that even during my pretty much total enjoyment of the Taurasi and Bird Megacast, there were moments when I lost track of what was happening in the game they were providing commentary on. If a team I was specifically rooting for was playing, I’d probably find myself veering back to the standard broadcast to pay deeper attention.
The Manningcast seems to have received mostly rave reviews around the internet, and was definitely a major part of the ongoing conversation around the NFL this past season. Peyton and Eli did a good job of balancing humor and interviews with attention to the X’s and O’s of what was happening on the field. Taurasi and Bird did some of that, but the focus was definitely more on cracking jokes with their many famous guests and telling stories about their own experiences in and around the game.
Some of the NBA League Pass options occasionally have a pretty DIY feel to them, and I could imagine the less buttoned-up vibe of basically all of these alternative broadcasts turning off some — probably a small — percentage of viewers. Taking it all into account, it’s hard to see a downside here though; these alternative broadcasts, at their worst, can just be ignored.
Hopes for the Future of the Alternative Broadcast
At their best, alternative sports broadcasts point the way, hopefully, to more inclusivity in the discourse around sports. If you come away from these broadcasts feeling like, “Hey, maybe I could do this!” — well, I think that might be part of the point. What these broadcasts do is inviting, and the feeling of experimentation and improvisation that comes with watching them is pretty intoxicating for a casual viewer.
During the Championship of the Women’s NCAA Tournament, while I was listening to Taurasi and Bird interview LeBron James, I found myself thinking about how many men are dismissive of women’s sports in general, and how just a simple conversation, on-air, between these three people during this event could be a way of shifting that perception, even just a little bit. That possibility feels exciting to me, especially in the context of sports.
I suppose it’s possible to imagine that if there are too many alternative broadcasts, eventually we all just end up in our little silos again, choosing to hear only what we want to hear, but that possibility barely feels worth considering. Sports are one of the last pieces of entertainment that we choose to experience simultaneously alongside millions of other people. We don’t stream them later; we don’t save the big games for a rainy day. Alternative broadcasts like Manningcast and Megacast, for the moment, are a fun way of expanding that collective experience.