SportsEvents Readers’ Choice Awards: Best Live or Virtual Event of 2020 (Bonus)

1st – Florida Pro Best of the Beach – Hickory Point Beach, Tavares, Florida 

The Florida Region of USA Volleyball began operations in the 1960s and was officially incorporated in 1982.

The organization offers indoor, outdoor, and para volleyball for adults, juniors, coaches, and officials, in addition to educational opportunities and officials as an affiliate of USA Volleyball.

The Florida Pro Best of the Beach was hosted at Hickory Point Beach in Tavares, Florida, over three days in November. Professional beach volleyball players from across the country participated between November 6-8, with 56 athletes competing in men’s and women’s divisions.

“This event exceeded all of our expectations,” said Steve Bishop, executive director of the Florida Region of USA Volleyball. “From our event partners who made it possible, to our amazing event team that executed on all cylinders, to the talented athletes that battled for every point, to the fans that came from many points near and far, we could not be more proud of the weekend’s activities.”

Bishop said feedback was positive, and he hopes the event produced during the worldwide pandemic shows what can be accomplished when everyone works together with a shared vision.

Bishop praised the Miami Volleyball Academy, Visit Lake and the Norelli Family Foundation for assistance and support and he thanked partners such as Molten, Smack Sportswear, Regenexx, SpikeNet, Tim Britt Photography, Rx Massage Therapy, BracketPal, BallerTV and Rock Tape for helping to make the event a success.

2nd – Major League Fishing (MLF) Heavy Hitters – Kissimmee, Florida

The Major League Fishing (MLF) announced the return of the 2020 Bass Pro Tour with Heavy Hitters after a delayed start last year because of COVID-19

The tour carried a $745,000 purse and a revised schedule to create live-action excitement for sports fans.

The event in Kissimmee featured 80 MLF Pros in a traditional six-day Bass Pro Tour format, and points were awarded to the angler with the most points after the season.

“As an angler-driven league, we worked with the pros to identify a schedule that preserves as many opportunities as possible for our guys to compete and receive a paycheck during this unprecedented time,” said Jim Wilburn, MLF president and CEO in announcing the change to the 2020 tour season. “Our media-centric format and exceptional production team enable us to create significant exposure for our field with over 55 hours of original programing via live stream, Discovery Channel, CBS, CBS Sports, and Sportsman Channel.”

The Bass Pro Tour began in 2019 and features 80 of the best professional anglers in the world.

3rd – Marquee Bubble Events at ESPN Wide World of Sports – Reunion, Florida

Last summer, with in-person sporting events canceled or postponed, the National Basketball Association (NBA) Players Association began exploratory conversations with The Walt Disney Company to play its 2019-20 season at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Florida.

With Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex offering 220 acres of space, three arenas, and hotels on-site, the NBA said leagues could continue to play while limiting exposure to COVID-19.

Once inside the safety of the complex’s “bubble,” 22 teams competed over three months, and the league champion Los Angeles Lakers were crowned.

During the three months, the complex hosted 205 games. It used seven practice facilities, weight rooms, training facilities, and basketball courts provided by the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, and the Orlando Magic. Virtual fans watched from home, and Mikey Mouse watched Game 5.

While the NBA Bubble was a success, the decision was made to cancel eight men’s college basketball events that were scheduled to take place at the complex.

The non-conference games would have featured the Champions Classic, Charleston Classic, the Myrtle Beach Invitational, NIT Season Tip-Off, the Wooden Legacy, the Orlando Invitational, the Jimmy V Classic, and the Diamond Head Classic. The decision to cancel the events was based on safety considerations and testing protocol challenges.

The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is designed for professional, amateur and youth athletes. It features multiple venues, including 18 multipurpose outdoor fields, a major league ballpark with 16 diamonds for baseball and softball, and three field houses, including an arena with seating for 8,000.

The complex also has a track and field facility and a cross-country course. ESPN offers a broadcast center that produces live sports event programming on ESPN platforms.

“ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is a world-class facility that employees first-rate event operation experts with years of expertise staging major youth, collegiate and professional sports events over the years, such as the NBA Pre-Draft Camp, the Tampa Bay Rays regular-season games, the Atlanta Braves spring training games, the Orlando Magic training camp,” according to Disney officials. “In addition, those partners have the full weight of ESPN supporting them, which creates a one-of-a-kind immersive experience they can’t get anywhere else.”

Honorable Mention:

WWE WrestleMania 36 SummerSlam and Weekly Programming – Orlando, Florida