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Inside Fox Sports Midwest’s response to COVID-19 — and how it’s preparing for games to return

"It starts with health and safety, of our employees and community"
Credit: SLBJ

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis’ professional sports teams have paused their seasons, but you still might catch a glimpse of them on television.

Fox Sports Midwest, the television partner of the St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Blues, has filled airtime amid the COVID-19 pandemic by curating old broadcasts of the sports teams. As it continues to air old games, the regional sports network is turning its focus to preparing for the return of U.S. professional sports.

For now, it appears the Blues and Cardinals will initially return to play without fans in attendance. Fox Sports Midwest General Manager Jack Donovan said his network’s owner, Sinclair Broadcast Group, is working with its regional sports channels to prepare for various scenarios.

“We don’t know how it will play out, but we realize TV would take on an even bigger role as a conduit between the Cardinals and Blues and their fans. The sports viewing experience would be different. You wouldn’t have the noise and energy of the crowd. But you’d likely hear more natural sound – the crack of the bat, skates digging into the ice," said Donovan.

The Business Journal caught up with Donovan to talk about FSM’s current operations and how it is preparing for the return of live professional sports. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How are you deciding which old content to curate during this time? We started with the best Cardinals and Blues games of the past year. Then we began showing “jewel events” – the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series wins, the 2019 Blues Stanley Cup run, the 2006 World Series and the 2016 Blues-Blackhawks playoff series, with more to come. Decisions are based in part on availability – not all past games are available. For jewel events like playoff and All-Star games, we obtain rights and video from MLB, the NHL and NBA. They’ve been great. We edit the games to fit our format. Quite a bit of time and work goes into it.

Generally speaking, what have ratings looked like for that content so far? Ratings have been small, but they are consistently among the highest in the country for classic games. We’re averaging around a 0.7 for Blues and Cardinals classics, with big games surpassing a 1.0. That’s obviously lower than live games, but these classics still rank as the No. 1 sports programming on TV in St. Louis many nights. That said, ratings are not the goal. Our hope is that these games provide a diversion, some fun, for fans. They also help the Blues and Cardinals stay connected with fans. And they’re a platform to share information about the Salvation Army “Your Neighbor Needs You” relief fund and draw attention to American Red Cross blood drives.

How are preparing to be ready to go once the MLB/NHL begin operations again? It starts with health and safety, of our employees and community. How will we follow CDC and local guidelines in our office, control rooms, studios, broadcast booths and production trucks? Do we have the right supplies? We’re preparing for that throughout the FOX Sports Regional Networks, nationwide.

Click here for the full interview.

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