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May the forced be with us.
In a galaxy far, far away — or a marketing department in Burbank, Calif. — there apparently was clamoring for “Star Wars”-themed coverage of Tuesday night’s New York Yankees-Houston Astros game.
Closer to planet Earth, who knows?
But it might not have taken a Jedi mind trick to persuade viewers to tune in.
For one thing, it promised to show viewers ESPN staffers playing dress-up to promote their fellow Walt Disney Co. assets and hype the latest “Star Wars” offering on Disney+. Karl Ravech was costumed as Luke Skywalker, analysts Tim Kurkjian and Eduardo Pérez dressed up as Yoda and a Jawa, respectively, and host Steve Levy was in Darth Vader garb.
For another, there was no alternative national feed. This wasn’t one of those alternative offerings to complement a standard telecast.
If you wanted to watch the game and didn’t have access to one team’s broadcast, this was it: Darth Levy and “Star Wars” maven Clinton Yates talking up “force plays” and whatever else the folks in sales dreamed up.
That’s too bad, regardless of whether we were more inclined to watch Jason Benetti and Len Kasper (filling in for Steve Stone) call the White Sox-Cincinnati Reds game on NBC Sports Chicago or Rick Sutcliffe sit in with Jon “Boog” Sciambi and Jim Deshaies for Cubs-Los Angeles Dodgers on Marquee Sports Network.
We like the idea of trying to offer something else with a secondary channel or platform, despite often being ambivalent at best about what they deliver, such as the recent gambling-oriented BetCasts on ESPN and NBC Sports Chicago and Monday’s Marvel-NBA cross-promotion.
While a traditional take on the Golden State Warriors’ victory over the New Orleans Pelicans was on Disney-owned ESPN, ESPN2 had the promotion linking pro basketball to the Disney-owned Marvel universe.
Is there no limit to what will be done in the name of corporate synergy? Is “Nomadland”-themed golf coverage in our future?
Basketball was a mere afterthought on ESPN2′s Marvel-cast with created stats — “hero points” — superimposed on the proceedings as comic-style graphics and flashy effects such as smoke trails on arcing shots and the occasional Marvel character made to appear near the action. It looked cool at first, less so as the game proceeded.
If you weren’t a Marvel devotee going in, it’s hard to see how the ESPN2 tweak-ment won you over. Once the initial novelty wore off with the umpteenth reference to how Doctor Strange already knew how things would turn out, the show was numbing at best.
Not changing the channel turned out to be a superpower. Hulk bored.
What it did, more than anything else, was further impress upon discerning viewers what a masterful job Nickelodeon did with its secondary coverage of the Bears’ playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints earlier this year.
Nick’s Bears-Saints telecast was fun, and it didn’t matter how much or how little a viewer cared about football or Nickelodeon and its kid-friendly programs, performers and characters.
There were special effects and other flourishes, plus attempts to explain nuances of football to young novices, but the telecast never prevented anyone from enjoying the game.
At no point did Nickelodeon relegate the action to an afterthought, the way ESPN2 did Monday to wedge in an interview with Marvel star Anthony Mackie plugging Disney’s Marvel content.
But ESPN is apt to ignore what’s happening for an in-game conversation even when it’s supposedly playing things straight.
That’s just one reason secondary feeds can seem an absolute godsend.
If you care about baseball, you may well prefer this weekend’s “Sunday Night Baseball” Statcast coverage on ESPN2 — featuring Benetti, Pérez and Mike Petriello — as an alternative to the regular coverage of Philadelphia Phillies-Atlanta Braves with Alex Rodriguez on ESPN.
Obi Wan Benetti, you’re our only hope.