COVID-19 fan engagement: Kentucky Derby, NHL, MotoGP and more

Kentucky Derby

Churchill Downs racecourse has announced plans to celebrate the first Saturday in May, the traditional date of the annual Kentucky Derby, by hosting a day-long at-home party to raise $2m (£1.6m/€1.85m) for COVID-19 emergency relief efforts.

The 146th Kentucky Derby was last month postponed from May 2 until September 5 due to the pandemic. The new date will mark the first time in 75 years that the horse racing classic will not be run on the first Saturday in May, but Churchill Downs is seeking to keep this tradition intact.

US racing fans can tune in to a special broadcast on NBC on May 2, from 3pm to 6pm EDT, which will feature the 2015 Kentucky Derby that began the legendary American Pharaoh’s historic Triple Crown run.

In addition, the NBC broadcast will highlight Churchill Downs’ first ever virtual horse race – The Kentucky Derby: Triple Crown Showdown. The virtual race, created by Inspired Entertainment, will feature the 13 past Triple Crown winners and use data algorithms including historical handicapping information about each horse in an effort to determine the probability of their potential finishing positions.

Beginning on April 30, fans will be able to visit KentuckyDerby.com to choose their favourite horse to win the virtual race and also join Churchill Downs in making a charitable donation to COVID-19 emergency relief efforts. Churchill Downs has pledged to match up to $1m of donations with funds to be directed to the Team Kentucky Fund and Direct Relief.

A full day of online festivities is planned on May 2, designed to encourage an interactive Kentucky Derby party at home. Churchill Downs will join the Kentucky Derby Museum and other partners to offer virtual tours, Derby cocktail and fascinator-making instructions, ideas for party decorations, kids’ crafts, Derby-inspired recipes, an at-home Derby fashion contest and more.

“For many fans around the country, the first Saturday in May has become a part of their family’s yearly traditions,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “While we eagerly look forward to the 146th Kentucky Derby this year on the first Saturday in September, we will celebrate the annual excitement of our traditional date with our fans and community by offering ways for us to join together for a great cause.”


The National Hockey League (NHL) has unveiled its first-ever Player Gaming Challenge in an effort to keep its fans engaged during COVID-19.

Sponsored by the League’s official automotive partner Honda and produced by esports company ESL Gaming, the Challenge will feature players representing all 31 clubs, including expansion franchise NHL Seattle.

Over the course of four weeks, beginning April 30, each club will be represented by one or two current players and featured in a one-time matchup against another club. Utilising EA Sports’ NHL 20 game, weekly matchups, storylines and broadcast details will be revealed at the beginning of each week.

The National Hockey League Foundation and Electronic Arts will donate a combined $100,000 in support of independent non-profit the CDC Foundation’s COVID-19 relief efforts. NBC Sports will air the first series of games, including Calgary vs. Ottawa and Columbus vs. Winnipeg. Canadian broadcaster Sportsnet will air select episodes on Sportsnet One over four consecutive weeks.

All matches will also air within NHL Network’s on-air programming or its Twitch channel. All featured matches will also be streamed on the NHL’s social platforms and NHL.com. “Over the past several weeks, the NHL, its clubs and player community have been very active with gaming initiatives in an effort to connect with fans while social distancing – such as charity tournaments, simulated games and nightly streams,” said Chris Golier, NHL vice-president of business development and innovation.

“The NHL Player Gaming Challenge presented by Honda will take gaming to another level. We know how competitive our players are, and coupled with the interaction between players, these series of competitions will be extremely fun to watch.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman this week said that no plan has been decided on for the return of the league but insisted that any neutral venues that end up hosting games would need to be up to the required standard.


The MotoGP motorcycling championship has stepped up its commitment to esports in an attempt to fill the void of live action during COVID-19 by announcing it will stage its first Virtual Grand Prix.

MotoGP has seen its 2020 calendar decimated by the pandemic, with the Dutch TT at Assen yesterday (Thursday) becoming the latest race to fall. The series held its first-ever Virtual Race on March 29, with the second taking place on April 12.

Buoyed by the success of these events, MotoGP has said May 3 – the original date for the Spanish GP – will witness the Red Bull Virtual Grand Prix of Spain. The event is designed to show solidarity with and aid the official charity of MotoGP, Two Wheels for Life, in supporting their efforts in the fight against COVID-19. It will see all three Grand Prix classes – MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 – compete in a unique three-race online event.

Virtual Race 2 saw the likes of Marc Marquez, Fabio Quartararo, Danilo Petrucci and Valentino Rossi take on the Red Bull Ring in Austria. MotoGP said 29 broadcast partners showed the event, with reach and engagement also impressive across social media and online, with a marked increase from the first race across the board.

Some 520 pieces of digital content were created around the event – including the full broadcast – for a total of 75 million impressions. This represented an increase of 25% on the first Virtual Race, with video views also increasing from 13 million to 14 million and the live second race itself gaining views reaching 3.2 million.

More than 2.5 million interactions were made with content related to Virtual Race 2. In total, MotoGP said 8.5 million minutes of Virtual Race 2 content were viewed, an increase of over a fifth.


LaLiga, organising body of the top two divisions of Spanish club football, has joined forces with Relevent Sports Group and LeBron James’s media company Uninterrupted to create a players-only esports competition featuring athletes from a variety of sports.

Kick COVID FIFA 20 will feature 16 athletes from clubs in LaLiga, the NBA, NFL and US National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Taking place this weekend, the tournament is a joint initiative between LaLiga North America, Uninterrupted, and the Women’s International Champions Cup.

Relevent Sports operates the International Champions Cup (ICC) men’s and women’s tournaments, which were cancelled earlier this month, and jointly runs LaLiga North America with LaLiga. The esports tournament will raise funds for the Feeding America charity.

It will be showcased across LaLiga’s Twitch channel and social-media platforms, Uninterrupted’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitter platforms, ICC social channels, and around 30 LaLiga broadcast partners.

Relevent Sports chief executive Daniel Sillman said, according to SportBusiness.com: “This partnership between Uninterrupted, LaLiga North America and the Women’s International Champions Cup allows us to continue promoting international football, while raising money for such an important and essential cause. We continue to build the global WICC platform and move the game forward by bringing the top clubs and players from Europe closer to North American fans.”

The venture marks the latest fan engagement move by LaLiga, which has been particularly active in this sphere during COVID-19. “LaLiga has always been an engine for positive change, and with this initiative we are looking to bring together the best athletes from around the world, to compete, inspire, and help during an unprecedented period of difficulty and uncertainty,” said LaLiga North America CEO Boris Gartner.

AC Milan

Italian Serie A football club AC Milan has further ramped up its fan engagement activities during COVID-19 by partnering with MasterClass, the online education platform.

Over the next 12 months the AC Milan community will benefit from free, unlimited access to all 80-plus classes through the MasterClass All-Access Pass.

MasterClass provides a platform for creative learning, producing online classes on a diverse range of topics including sports, business, cooking, film and television, music and entertainment, photography and lifestyle.

Classes are led by personalities in their respective fields, including Serena Williams on tennis, Stephen Curry on basketball, Anna Wintour on creativity and leadership, Christina Aguilera on singing, Gordon Ramsay on cooking and Natalie Portman on acting.

Casper Stylsvig, AC Milan’s chief revenue officer, said: “During this current period of change, we are looking at new ways to inspire and engage our fans, and this has led us to embark upon this innovative partnership with MasterClass. We are very excited to share this unique opportunity for AC Milan fans around the world to learn from some of the foremost experts across the fields of sport, business and the arts.”

The partnership with MasterClass follows AC Milan’s deal with Headspace, announced earlier this month, which seeks to address the need for mental health support during this period of uncertainty.