National Spelling Bee Looks To Gain Attention As A Competitive Sport

The national spelling bee has made changes to this years programming, hoping to bring in more viewers with one alluring celeb.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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spelling bee

It’s that time of year again. Starting today, young students from across the globe will converge in Washington, DC to test their skills at spelling words that most of us barely know how to pronounce, let alone spell out. The Scripps National Spelling Bee has been bringing these young phonetic whizzes for almost 100 years. This year, the competition has made quite a few changes, including adding beloved celebrity LeVar Burton to the mix, in hopes to regain its place in Americana and create a larger buzz around the competitive educational sport. 

The longstanding spelling bee hopes to acquire the same attention other popular competition shows such as American Idol or the Winter Olympics attract, according to reports from Variety. Regaining broadcasting rights, Scripps hopes to broadcast the show on a wider array of networks, and lure in more viewerships with some mashups and revamps to how the show was being run under the control of Disney and ESPN in previous years. To start, the show is banking on LeVar Burton to work his magic.

LeVar Burton is a multi-talented actor, host, and director best known for his roles on Star Trek and Reading Rainbow. He is also likely the best fit for this year’s commentator efforts during the spelling bee, given his educational programming background. Additionally, the programmer of the spelling bee has hired Michael Dempsey to helm the direction of the coverage. Dempsey has previously worked on Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards.

To entice new viewership, the show will have fewer commercial breaks. Also, Burton will be given plenty of screen time, conversing with the young spelling bee contestants both before and after they take to the stage to spell out their given arduous words. As the plethora of young students are eliminated, Burton will sit down for a heart-to-heart discussion with each child, giving an in-depth look into their journey. 

The prestigious National Spelling Bee is a longstanding tradition in America. First taking place in 1925, it has brought together young children every single year since, except for in 1943 and 1945 – during World War II – and then in 2020 at the onset of the pandemic. To qualify for the competition, a speller must win a regional competition. There is no age limit, however, all participants must be no older than 14 years old, nor can they be past the eighth grade as of February 1 of that year’s competition.

In making big changes to programming this year, Scripps’ CEO, Adam Sympson made note that the National Spelling Bee’s viewership was gradually declining over the years under ESPN’s stewardship. During this time, Scripps’ had no say over how ESPN aired the competition, and oftentimes, it was being run on the network late at night, possibly leading to the lack of viewership. The hope is that they can change all this, but they have quite the road ahead in doing so. In general, cable viewerships have waned as streaming services reign supreme. 

spelling bee

Starting tonight, June 1st at 8 pm EST, those wishing to get a glimpse into the beguiling, venerable world of all things spelling can get their first glimpse at the young contestants across ION networks broadcasting outlets. It will also be showcased on the company’s free streaming venues as well. Also, while LeVar Burton will be the star the company hopes to entice more viewers, Scripps has also hinted at possibly more surprise cameos during the competition.