ESPN Hits the Field With Invictus Games

Network promises athletic action, celebration of wounded servicemembers

The 2016 Summer Olympics are still several months away, but ESPN will focus its attention this week on another international competition: The Invictus Games, considered by many to be the annual Olympics games for wounded war veterans.

The games, initially launched by the United Kingdom’s Prince Harry in 2014 in London to honor wounded military personnel from around the world, will take place at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports facilities in Orlando, Fla., and feature more than 500 competitors from 14 nations.

ESPN2 kicked off coverage on Sunday (May 8) with the opening ceremonies, and will air a one-hour primetime highlight show today (May 9) and Wednesday night (May 11). ESPN will run a 90-minute primetime show on Tuesday (May 10) featuring action from the games.

Subscription online-video service ESPN3 will air more than 35 hours of live coverage from the games starting today, according to ESPN.

ESPN2’s coverage of the games, created to help inspire recovery and support rehabilitation among wounded warriors, will be sponsored by Land Rover, according to network officials.

“Anytime you can give back to the men and women who gave every measure of themselves to their countries and to help the healing process that they’re going through is a great thing to be part of,” said Invictus Games coordinating producer Bill Bonnell said. “It’s admirable for people to say thank you for your service, but this is part of us being able to give them sport and competition to help the healing process for them.”

Of the 10 sports featured within the Invictus Games, ESPN and ESPN2 will focus its primetime coverage on track and field, swimming, power lifting, rowing and archery events. “We’re going to get as much competition in within the primetime shows that we have,” he said.

ESPN2 will support its coverage with shoulder programming that will highlight the issues that wounded military men and women face. The network will offer nightly “Up Close and Personal” features on several of the competitors, narrated by former ABC News reporter Bob Woodruff, who in 2005 was wounded in a roadside bomb while he was reporting from Iraq.

ESPN2 will air the closing ceremonies live on Thursday night featuring musical performances from Rascal Flatts, American Idol winner Phillip Phillips, hip-hop artist Flo Rida, The Voice’s Jordan Smith, and wounded warrior band, Vetted.

The network is not looking for Olympicssize ratings from its coverage of the Invictus Games, Bonnell said. Rather, it’s looking to bring attention to the plight of wounded veterans in the U.S. and around the world.

“At the end of the day, if we’re able to change attitudes about our military men and women and have people see how inspirational the stories are of these men and women who have served our country, that to me would be a successful broadcast,” he said. “We want to give these people a spotlight.”

ESPN is already in talks to televise next year’s Invictus Games from Toronto, but no deals have been reached.