Coronavirus upended the business of live sports as seasons were postponed, shortened or cancelled, and the biggest event of 2020, the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, was pushed to 2021, with no guarantee that the Games would indeed happen then. So it’s a business that’s in tremendous flux — yet, fans are desperate to consume sports, whether live or through doc series such as ESPN Films’ “The Last Dance” or Netflix’s “Cheer” and “Last Chance U.”
On Variety’s Sports & Entertainment virtual conversations, which will air from 9 to 11 a.m. PT Aug. 28 in the Variety Streaming Room, Green Bay Packers quarterback, two-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion Aaron Rodgers, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ five-time All-Star and NBA champion Kevin Love and WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert will talk about the state of sports entertainment. Meanwhile the Sports Storytelling Elite Roundtable features Libby Geist, VP and executive producer, ESPN Films and original content; Jeron Smith, CEO of Unani-mous Media; Gotham Chopra, co-
founder, chief creative officer, Religion of Sports; Charlie Dixon, EVP, Content, FS1, Fox Sports; Greg Whiteley, executive producer/director, “Cheer”; and Emilie Deutsch, VP, original programming & features at CBS Sports.
Todd Burach, senior relationship manager in City National Bank’s sports and entertainment division, will be interviewing Rodgers and his CAA rep Ed Berry. Burach notes that the large contracts of the stars of sports underline “the value of sports content.” But all athletes need to be prepared for life after sports.
“What we’re seeing is the importance of a relationship with trusted advisers,” he says. “There’s the idea that the athlete is the CEO of their own company. We’re the CFO at that table. The thing we get involved in that I’m passionate about is what opportunities that athletes have after their careers are over, or when they retire.
“Those decisions are all unique and very personal.”
Indeed, Love set up the Kevin Love Foundation to promote mental-health awareness — he has been candid about his struggles with depression. He will speak about the subject at the Variety event.
“I think it goes back to access to information and when they are able to share their story,” Burach says. He notes that when athletes use social media to build brands and share their stories, it encourages other athletes to explore life outside their sport. “That’s part of what we try to do.”
Sports content is huge and growing. Smith should know — he launched Unanimous Media with NBA star Stephen Curry, and just inked a partnership with Sony Studios. Chopra’s Religion of Sports, which he founded alongside NFL star Tom Brady and Pro Football Hall of Famer and “Good Morning America” host Michael Strahan, recently completed a $10 million fundraising round.
The pandemic elevated the role of content in everyone’s lives, with “The Last Dance,” which looked at the Chicago Bulls’ championship runs, and Netflix’s “Cheer,” which followed the cheerleaders of the championship team of Navarro College in Texas, grab eyeballs that were not necessarily those of sports fans.
“Cheer’s” Whiteley says, “First and foremost as a documentarian” he approaches the subjects with “a cold eye but a warm heart.”
As a storyteller on “Last Chance U” and “Cheer,” Whiteley says, “We do the best we can to stay out of it and let their true humanity surprise us. If I’m being moved by their story, I’m confident an audience will be too. Their stories are enough.”
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