Disney-owned ESPN announced Friday that it will air the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans game during a Marvel-themed broadcast titled “Arena of Heroes” on May 3.
The game’s traditional broadcast will air on ESPN, and the Marvel game will be available on the network’s ESPN2 channel and the ESPN+ streaming service. Characters such as Black Panther, Iron Man and Capital Marvel will be included. Broadcasters are calling the game a Marvel-themed studio.
It can help attract viewers. NBA games on ESPN average about 1.2 million viewers this season, 15% less than in 2020. Saturday’s national games on ABC average 2.3 million viewers, a 2% year-over-year decline.
“We want fans to experience this unique, innovative presentation that will combine the exceptional storytelling and production of Marvel and ESPN,” said Matt Kenny, ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions.
Here’s how the Marvel tie-in will work, according to ESPN:
“The Avengers recognize the superior physical abilities, agility and tenacity of the greatest athletes on Earth and will hold a series of competitions where the winners earn the right to train and fight alongside them as Marvel’s Champions! The Avengers begin their recruitment with the NBA elite and observe the battle between the Warriors and the Pelicans, focusing on three star players from each team.”
Those players are Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins on the Warriors, and the Pelicans’ Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. An alternate player will be selected if one of them is unable to participate.
The NBA stars earn “Marvel Hero” points for every point, rebound, assist, steal and block. But they lose hero points for every missed field goal, free throw, or turnover.
“[The] broadcast will be the first of its kind to bring Marvel’s stories straight to the real-time experience of an NBA game,” said Mike Pasciullo, Marketing Director, Marvel Entertainment.
Nickelodeon, owned by ViacomCBS, has rolled out a similar broadcast with its Child Play that aired during the National Football League season. Nickelodeon aired the January 10 postseason game between the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears, which drew 2 million viewers. It was the network’s most-watched program by total viewership in nearly four years.
Research firm Morning Consult found that more than 70% of parents surveyed about the NFL children’s game said they would watch a similar game with their children.
“It scored really well with these Alpha parents,” said Alex Silverman, who analyzes sports studies for Morning Consult.
ESPN has experimented with themed broadcasts in the past. The network held a youth-themed Little League Baseball game in 2019 with teenage reporters and commentators. ESPN also hosted a 2019 NBA Finals game focused on Generation Z featuring concepts from the classic video game, NBA Jam.