ESPN is bringing back the highly popular “Bird and Taurasi Show” as an alternate telecast to the Women’s Final Four, Front Office Sports has learned.
Multiple proper ESPN networks will be dedicated to in-game coverage. The show, which was so popular that it attracted a sponsor in AT&T, will be broadcast live from American Airlines Center during both semifinals and the championship game. Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi will host the “Manningcast”-style show on ESPN2 for all three games, with guests and game analysis.
It’s all part of ESPN’s plan to provide coverage of the Women’s Final Four on par with the College Football Playoff or the NFL.
“That expanded coverage — we reserve that type of treatment around our biggest events,” VP of Disney Advertising Sports Brand Solutions, Theresa Palmieri, told FOS. “We’re really trying to create parity across how we cover big events.”
Elevating women’s sports coverage is “our blueprint for how we move into the future,” Palmieri said.
The network had tried alternate telecasts for the past several years, but last year’s Bird and Taurasi Show was the first one that really clicked, Patricia Lowry, ESPN VP of production for women’s college basketball, told FOS.
And it’s not easy to produce. From finding somewhere in the arena to build a set, to alternating between in-person and Zoom guests and having remote producers, “it’s a unique challenge,” Lowry said.
Last year, social media followed the UConn alums’ every word: the show contributed to a 20% increase in Final Four ratings.
Even what the pair was drinking went viral — when they revealed they were sipping on Bud Light Black Cherry Hard Seltzers, Twitter asked why ESPN couldn’t provide a higher-quality beverage. (Lowry told FOS she doesn’t know what the pair will be drinking this year, and she doesn’t want to know, either.)
“We hope our experience in the game, and playing on this stage, offers fans unique and compelling insight that adds to their viewing experience,” Bird and Taurasi said in a joint statement to FOS. “Plus, you never know who will pop in or what topics will get covered. Get hydrated!”
The elevated coverage could help the network retain the event in the future, which it’s interested in renewing, sources previously told FOS.
Renegotiations will soon commence between the NCAA and ESPN for its contract for 29 championships, including the Division I women’s tournament. In all, the package is worth an average of $34 million a year — but expert estimates suggest women’s basketball alone could be worth $112 million annually starting in 2025.