The forces of Marvel and ESPN are coming together for a special NBA game featuring the Avengers. The unique broadcast continues a trend as ESPN reaches out to new viewers through targeted specials such as the recent "BetCast" for sports betting enthusiasts and "KidsCast" for younger viewers interested in a recent Little League Championship. If executed properly, tapping into the Marvel audience has the potential to entice yet another demographic of viewers to watch.
ESPN is not the only sports network trying this approach. There was an NFL Wild Card game on Nickelodeon this year with members of the sketch show "All That" doing commentary, complete with green slime and animated overlays to help keep the kids entertained. Meanwhile, the MLB Network is taking a more laid back approach and bringing on retired players including CC Sabathia and Carlos Pena to talk about an upcoming game "Clubhouse" style, encouraging them to speak as though they were at home watching and chatting with friends.
As reported by Variety, ESPN and Marvel are teaming up for a themed broadcast of an NBA game, dubbed Marvel's Arena of Heroes. The broadcast will be of the upcoming game between the Golden State Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans, with a new Marvel story interspersed throughout, featuring Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Captain America, and Black Widow in 3D animated form. The Avengers will be scouting new heroes to help battle an incoming alien threat, mainly looking at Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins from the Golden State Warriors and Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball from the Pelicans. In a recent statement, Mike Pasciullo, VP of marketing and communications for Marvel Entertainment, highlighted the excitement of letting fans experience the game through the eyes of their characters:
The new ‘Marvel’s Arena of Heroes’ telecast will be the first of its kind to bring Marvel’s storytelling directly to the real-time experience of a NBA game, and we are excited for fans to be able to watch their favorite players through the lens of Marvel’s mightiest heroes.
Throughout the game, the Avengers will be awarding "Marvel Hero Points" to players based on their performance, with things like points, rebounds, assists or steals getting them a Hero Point. Conversely, any missed field goal, free throw, or turnover loses that player a Hero Point. The player with the most Hero Points on the winning team will be given the title of Marvel's first "Champion" when the game ends. And for any NBA fans not interested in the ceremony or the Marvel heroes, they can simply watch the game on standard ESPN, as the Avengers content will only be broadcast on ESPN2, ESPN+ and ESPN Desportes.
With Marvel and ESPN both under the Disney umbrella, it is not that surprising to see this kind of corporate synergy. But the special's ability to actually pull in younger kids and comic-book fans who are not already watching ESPN would take superpowers that seem far beyond the creatives producing this, especially as everything featuring the animated Avengers has to be finished before the game. At best, the Arena of Heroes will be a fun distraction during the game, at worst it will be full of awkward comments that do not connect to anything happening in the moment.