ESPN to air Marvel-themed NBA game on May 3 featuring Warriors, Pelicans

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Stephe Curry and Iron man.

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Disney-owned ESPN announced Friday it will broadcast the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans game during a Marvel-themed telecast entitled “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 streaming service ESPN+. Characters including Black Panther, Iron Man and Capital Marvel will be incorporated. Broadcasters will call the game in a Marvel-themed studio.

It might help attract viewers. NBA games on ESPN are averaging roughly 1.2 million viewers this season, down 15% compared with 2020, the network said. Its Saturday national games on ABC are averaging 2.3 million viewers, down 2% year over year.

“We’re eager for fans to experience this unique, innovative presentation that will pair Marvel and ESPN’s exceptional storytelling and production,” said Matt Kenny, ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions.

Here’s how the Marvel tie-in will work, according to ESPN:

“Recognizing the superior physical abilities, agility, and tenacity of Earth’s greatest athletes, the Avengers will hold a series of contests where the winners earn the right to train and fight alongside them as Marvel’s Champions! The Avengers will 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 include 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 any of them aren’t able 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] telecast will be the first of its kind to bring Marvel’s storytelling directly to the real-time experience of a NBA game,” said Mike Pasciullo, Marvel Entertainment president of marketing.

ViacomCBS property Nickelodeon rolled out a similar telecast with its children’s game that aired during the National Football League season. Nickelodeon simulcasted the Jan. 10 postseason contest between the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears, which attracted 2 million viewers. It was the network’s most-watched program among total viewers in nearly four years.

Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives to the basket during the game against the Golden State Warriors on February 23, 2020 at Chase Center in San Francisco, California.

Noah Graham | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

Research company Morning Consult found more than 70% of parents polled on the children’s NFL game said they would watch a similar game with their kids.

“It scored really well with these Alpha parents,” said Alex Silverman, who analyzes sports studies for Morning Consult.

ESPN has experimented with themed telecasts 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 targeted at Generation Z featuring concepts from the classic video game, NBA Jam.

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