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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

‘Full Court Press’ Is ESPN’s Best Sports Doc in Years, and a Sequel Is Coming

  • Omaha, Words + Pictures, and ESPN+ are already planning a second season of the behind-the-scenes women’s college basketball documentary.
  • Sources say UConn guard Paige Bueckers is already being eyed as one of the stars for the sequel.
Apr 5, 2024; Cleveland, OH, USA; Connecticut Huskies guard Paige Bueckers (5) reacts in the second quarter against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the semifinals of the Final Four of the womens 2024 NCAA Tournament at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The nation’s top sports storytellers can’t seem to get enough of women’s sports programming.

Petyon Manning’s Omaha Productions, Words + Pictures, and ESPN+ are already planning a second season of Full Court Press, the behind-the-scenes show about the high-pressure world of women’s college basketball, sources with direct knowledge of the strategy tell Front Office Sports.

UConn guard Paige Bueckers is already being eyed as one of the stars for the sequel, sources say. She would be a natural pick. UConn’s campus in Storrs, Conn., is only an hour away from ESPN’s sprawling headquarters in Bristol. Other women’s college basketball stars who could get the documentary treatment include USC guard JuJu Watkins and LSU guard Flau’jae Johnson.

This past weekend’s telecast of the ESPN+ original series May 11–12 took viewers behind the scenes with former Iowa guard Caitlin Clark, former South Carolina center Kamilla Cardoso, and UCLA guard Kiki Rice. Clark, the No. 1 WNBA pick, served as an executive producer on Full Court Press before moving on to her new pro career with the Indiana Fever. I watched the series this weekend and thought it was excellent, right up there with ESPN’s best 30 for 30 docs. Noted film critic Richard Roeper called it his favorite sports doc since ESPN Films’ smash hit, The Last Dance, about Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls dynasty.

During an appearance with The Pat McAfee Show, Manning said he came up with the women’s college basketball documentary idea while finishing his critically acclaimed doc, Quarterback, for Netflix. The same way Quarterback focused on three NFL QBs—the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins, and then Falcon Marcus Mariota—Manning wanted Full Court Press to focus on the lives of three star female hoopers. The Pro Football Hall of Famer got Clark’s sign-off during a Zoom call. And Omaha was off and running with Words + Pictures, the production company led by former ESPN content czar Connor Schell.

“We found these things are better when you have multiple players. Not just focused on one single player,” Manning said. “Caitlin actually wanted to have other players in it—as opposed to just focusing on her.”

Omaha continues to grow. During an interview with FOS Today, head of production Therese Andrews told us the production company has 8–12 active projects in the works at any given time.

ESPN debuted Full Court Press just before the annual “upfront” selling season, where the big TV networks stage splashy dog-and-pony shots for ad buyers in New York. In previous years, women’s sports would have been a footnote. Now they’re front and center.

During Fox’s upfront presentation Monday, Erin Andrews announced the network would televise the regular-season matchup between Bueckers’s UConn and Watkins’s USC on Saturday, Dec. 21. Even better for the game’s TV ratings, it will have an NFL game as a lead-in. ESPN and Omaha declined comment.

Clark Debut Draws WNBA Finals–Like Coverage

The WNBA’s TV partners are pulling out all the stops for Clark’s pro regular-season debut with the Fever this week. ESPN2 will employ multiple camera angles, including below- and above-the-rim cams, roving handheld cameras, and player mics for its coverage of Fever-Sun on Tuesday night. Amazon Prime Video, meanwhile, will offer pregame/halftime/postgame studio coverage with host LaChina Robinson and analyst Renee Montgomery around Clark’s home opener against the Liberty on Thursday night. My FOS colleague Margaret Fleming tells me the WNBA is also planning an “All Access Practice” feature for the Fever.

Mike Drops 

It was a brilliant business strategy by Fox on Monday to wheel out Tom Brady as the star of its upfront presentation to ad buyers, who ate him up. This will spur them to open their wallets and buy expensive commercials on Fox’s biggest NFL games this season. It also shoots down the notion Brady will change his mind about calling NFL games as Fox’s No. 1 game analyst this year. Don’t forget Fox boss Lachlan Murdoch has spoken of Brady as a “partner” and “ambassador” who can be a rainmaker for the corporation. On Monday, Brady started making it rain. … Speaking of Brady, the NFL doesn’t miss a trick. For his first regular-season broadcast, the league gifted the network with Cowboys-Browns. America’s Team is, of course, the league’s biggest ratings magnet. The telecast should draw a monster TV audience. … ESPN is calling on heavy hitter Stephen A. Smith to push ESPN Bet. The host of First Take will appear in two TV commercials for ESPN’s new sports betting platform.


Michael McCarthy’s “Tuned In” column is at your fingertips every week with the latest insights and ongoings around sports media. If he hears it, you will, too. Got a question or feedback? Send it his way for a future “Tuned In” mailbag.

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