What happens in a sports world with no sports?

Three months ago, I pictured my last Bi-Line column to be one about the Braves tearing up the first month of the season, the grind of the NBA playoffs, or recapping a historic NCAA tournament. Now, however, the sports world is eerily silent in a time that is usually loud, busy, and exhilarating. With this absence, sports fans across the globe have been scouring for new ways to consume live action, and networks and leagues have responded by providing entertaining content. While no one hopes it’s permanent, it’s doing a solid job filling the empty void many fans feel while their favorite teams are on hiatus.

The Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL), located in Taiwan, has been playing games without fans for the past few weeks as COVID-19 subsides in Taiwan. While sports are on hiatus everywhere, the thirdbest league overseas (behind the KBO [Korea] and the NPB [Japan]) has been the sole baseball league in action right now. The league contains four teams: the Rakuten Monkeys (my personal favorite), the Fubon Guardians, the Uni Lions, and the Chinatrust Brothers. Rakuten is currently in first place with a 7-2 record behind strong hitting from Lin Li, the reigning batting champion of the CPBL, and Chu Yu-Hsien, the reigning MVP of the CPBL. Yu-Hsien is off to an unconscious start for the Monkeys, as he’s homered in every Monkeys game to this point. Yu-Hsien is on pace for 120 homers at his current pace and is currently hitting over .500. He is no doubt the best baseball player actually playing games right now. The league plays games six days a week (off day on Monday), and games start between 5:30 and 7:00 a.m. EST, with Taiwan being 12 hours ahead of Atlanta.

Both the MLB and NASCAR have been using e-sports to connect with their fans during their respective hiatuses. The MLB has introduced the “Players’ League,” where all 32 teams have one player playing with their respective team in MLB The Show 20 on PS4. The players play three-inning games against each other, and at the end of the season, the top eight make the playoffs. The playoffs will take place from May 1-3 on ESPN, and so far, Joey Gallo (Texas Rangers) and Blake Snell (Tampa Bay Rays) have been the only ones to clinch playoff spots to this point. While Gallo, Snell, and Blue Jay’s shortstop Bo Bichette lead the pack, many players have  struggled immensely making the transition from the actual ballfield to the virtual ballfield. Eduardo Rodriguez (Boston Red Sox) is in the basement of the league at 2-19, and Pittsburgh Pirates’ infielder Cole Tucker is not much better at 4-17. In Gallo’s 23 games, he’s hit a league leading 47 home runs and has scored 117 runs (5 RPG). Clearly, Gallo’s real-life power (103 HR’s in the past three seasons) has transitioned well to PlayStation.

eNASCAR has been picking up where NASCAR left off when the season was postponed due to COVID-19. NASCAR drivers use a “sim rig,” or a combination of a steering wheel, computer, and pedals to create a very real and virtual simulated driving experience. The transition has not been seamless for NASCAR, with multiple drivers quitting races, losing sponsors, and being suspended. Driver Bubba Wallace, a part of Richard Petty Motorsports team, decided to skip the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Event at Talladega Superspeedway after being “burnt out,” citing that driving at the sim rig for 6-8 hours is too much for him. Wallace already quit a race instead of racing the remainder of the 150 laps of the race after getting in a (virtual) accident with Clint Bowyer. Wallace lost a sponsor, who said that they are “interested in drivers, not quitters.” The headline incident in this league, though, was Kyle Larson, a star in the NASCAR world, being fired from Chip Ganassi Racing after saying a racial slur on a broadcasted eNASCAR event. Larson lost all of his sponsors and is suspended indefinitely from NASCAR, which is estimated to be an eight-figure blunder for Larson. Despite NASCAR’s extreme efforts, the eNASCAR league has struggled to shine during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The Last Dance, an ESPN documentary highlighting Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s that tormented the NBA and won six championships, started airing on ESPN on Sunday, April 19. While the documentary was supposed to be released during the 2020 NBA Finals in June, ESPN moved up the release date with the COVID-19 pandemic suspending the NBA’s season indefinitely. The first two episodes that aired on April 19 drew the highest rating ever for a ESPN documentary. The documentary is split into 10 episodes, highlighting mostly Michael Jordan’s greatness, but also Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson (coach), Jerry Krause (GM), and others during the series. The documentary runs every Sunday night until May 17 in two episode intervals.

While the NFL has the advantage of being in its offseason right now, questions about how it was going to conduct the 2020 NFL draft arose after the pandemic forced everyone back into their houses. This year, instead of holding the draft in Las Vegas, the NFL and ESPN/ NFL Network put on the first ever virtual NFL Draft, which was a wild success. While NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was safe from being showered in boos from his own small basement, the production of the virtual draft went so well that many fans were able to get over that annual tradition of booing the commissioner at the NFL draft. ESPN had hundreds of cameras in households of players, coaches, executives, and analysts with 130 people headquartered in Bristol, Connecticut (ESPN HQ), tying everything together. The massive production was almost flawless, and it led to the first night of the draft (the first round) being the highest rated NFL draft in NFL history. With many laughs from coaches’ children photobombing shots of them working combined with getting to see the draft picks hug their families after they got drafted, many people want to see the virtual NFL draft become an annual tradition and extend it past the COVID-19 crisis.

While losing sports during this pandemic has made fans miss rooting for their favorite teams, networks and leagues have gone the extra mile to deliver content to fans, whether it’s e-sports, game replays, documentaries, or virtual events. The rise of this new content has sparked many great content ideas that could even stick past the pandemic and provided much-needed entertainment for sports fans suffering from the current COVID-19 pandemic.