How AFN TV Sports evolved during the pandemic

AFN sports programmers  Willie Price (far left) and Jason Stevenson (right) program all the sports you see on AFN television.   They work at the American Forces Network (AFN) Broadcast Center in Riverside, California.
AFN sports programmers Willie Price (far left) and Jason Stevenson (right) program all the sports you see on AFN television. They work at the American Forces Network (AFN) Broadcast Center in Riverside, California.

How AFN TV Sports evolved during the pandemic

by Petty Officer 3rd Class Leon Wong
Defense Media Activity AFN Broadcast Center Public Affairs

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a major impact on the American Forces Network (AFN) Broadcast Center (BC) in Riverside, Calif., the network is once again broadcasting AFN|sports and AFN|sports2 separately instead of simulcasting them.

AFN went back to two unique sports services once the network locked in the rights to air enough fresh sports programming to fill two 24/7 services. The Broadcast Center accommodated the increase in live sporting events by returning a limited number of staff to its building for accessing, processing and broadcasting shows. The majority of the AFN BC’s staff continues to work remotely during the pandemic.

Since five months ago when the AFN BC first simulcast its TV sports services, the network has received more than 600 different audience questions about sports. One of the most frequently asked questions was why, instead of simulcasting two sports services, didn’t AFN provide different sports or entertainment programming on one of its two sports services. AFN couldn’t do this because there wasn’t enough fresh stateside programming available, the network didn’t have the rights to air enough classic programming to fill existing TV services and the AFN BC needed to reduce services to protect its people from COVID-19.

AFN continues to get scores of questions about sports programming. We asked AFN’s sports programming duo, Jason Stevenson and Willie Price, for their answers to the most frequently asked sports questions people ask AFN. Here’s what they said: 

  1. Why did AFN simulcast AFN|sports and AFN|sports2?

PRICE: As you may recall, the NBA first postponed games on March 11 due to a player testing positive for COVID-19. The following day, the NCAA canceled all conference basketball championships (and subsequently the NCAA tournament), The National Hockey League (NHL) postponed the remainder of their season and Major League Baseball (MLB) postponed the start of their season. That left us with literally no live sports to air. At first, the plan was to have a very skeleton schedule that did not include sports. After discussions, we decided to keep AFN|sports on the air, but simulcast on AFN|sports2 to keep all our existing channels on air. Our simulcast began March 13 and lasted 17 weeks.

  1. How do you decide what to air on AFN|sports and what to air on AFN|sports2?

PRICE: AFN|sports is our main sports channel. Try to think of it as ESPN, and AFN|sports2 as ESPN2. The higher profile, higher rated sports go on AFN|sports, with the next highest on Sports2, next on AFN|prime Atlantic (on the weekends). On occasion there may be times where some events will be moved to the other channel based on when that event starts.

  1. AFN says the schedule is always subject to change. Why is that? Why can't you just stick to the schedule on line?

PRICE: This is a great question. Live sports are unpredictable. We don’t know that a game won’t go into overtime or extra innings. Sometimes games finish faster than scheduled. With Major League Baseball, you have the weather to worry about. Some games get rained out and then have to be replaced with another game.

  1. Why doesn't AFN leave a blowout game that is running long to start the next scheduled sporting event?

PRICE: Our biggest complaint is when a game runs long and the next game doesn’t start “when scheduled.” We are obligated to stay with the game/event until the network has “signed off.” You may not be a fan of one of the teams playing, but someone else watching may be. If we left that game, they wouldn’t be happy with us. We try not to schedule high profile events such as UFC and WWE PPV after another live event, but circumstances sometimes do not allow us to do that. When that happens we try to run an alert to the audience on the TV screen to stay tuned because it will start immediately following the conclusion of that event. 

  1. When did AFN start airing a separate AFN|sports and AFN|sports2 service again?

STEVENSON: July 23, 2020 was the first date of a full AFN|sports2 schedule.

  1. Why did you choose that time to go back to AFN|sports and AFN|sports2?

STEVENSON: When Major League Baseball (MLB) announced its season opener date, AFN Sports decided that would be the best time to ring AFN|sports2 and AFN|prime Atlantic on the weekends back on air with live original programming. It just made sense then because we had more original sporting events to choose from.

  1. It seems that AFN announces when/if UFC fights will air on the Thursday or Friday before the fights. Why so late?

STEVENSON: AFN is contractually obligated not to promote UFC Fights until we have access permission from the source provider, ESPN. Unfortunately, that access permission doesn't usually get authorized until Thursday or Friday.

  1. How does AFN decide what sports to air and when? Can't you just air any sporting event you want to?

STEVENSON: First we have to have the rights to air the sporting event. Next, AFN|sports decides what sporting event to air based on what's the most popular and or higher rated sporting event going on at that time. The higher rated events are live with the other events airing delayed. Are there conflicts? Absolutely! Sometimes there are four or five popular sporting events going on and we only have two or three channels depending on the day and time that event is airing. I'll give you an example of a major conflict. We have MLB with an extremely shortened schedule, NBA going into the playoffs, NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers, MLS Quarterfinals, UFC Fight Night, and Showtime Boxing all airing at the same time. Which three are the most popular to air live? All of them, depending on which fan of that particular sporting event you ask. The exciting thing is all of them will air on our AFN Sports channels, the question is what time and day. We can't please every fan at once, but we definitely try.

  1. What can the audience expect to see on AFN|sports and AFN|sports2 in the coming weeks?

STEVENSON: AFN Sports will be very exciting. We already have Major League Baseball airing with a shortened season, The Stanley Cup Playoffs going on, and the National Basketball Association is getting ready for the playoffs. We will also have National Football League, UFC Fights, the Professional Golfers Association (of America) FedEx Cup Playoffs, Hard Knocks Los Angeles, and the return of Premier Boxing Championships (PBC).

For a full schedule of all AFN shows, go to MYAFN.NET for dates and times.  AFN decoder owners may also hit the EPG button on their remote.

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