On Wednesday, ESPN announced a new feature of its coverage for the Division I women’s volleyball tournament: a RedZone-like whiparound show, which will complement ESPN’s broadcasting of every tournament match on one of its networks.
The program, called “The 5th Set,” isn’t the first time the NFL-style coverage has been brought to college sports. In 2021, for example, Fox implemented a whiparound show for Big East basketball. But now, ESPN will put extra resources in the labor-intensive show toward volleyball.
The enhanced coverage is a major leap from just a few years ago, when the network was criticized for not even planning to have announcers at early rounds.
It’s yet another example of how conferences and broadcasters have begun to recognize the importance of investing in a sport that is growing at all levels.
- At the youth level, volleyball has become the second-most popular sport among girls.
- In college, ratings have increased significantly. As a result, conferences have elevated coverage — the Big Ten hosted the first-ever volleyball media days this year.
- Three professional women’s indoor leagues have launched since 2020.
ESPN has an exclusive deal with the NCAA for 29 championships, including Division I women’s volleyball, that averages about $34 million a year — a bargain considering women’s basketball alone is estimated to be worth $118 million annually.
The NCAA is gearing up to enter renegotiations, as the contract is up in 2024. It’s possible ESPN, which is interested in retaining these rights, is beefing up coverage to prove that it’s a network worth sticking with.