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Monday, May 20, 2024

Why Is the Women’s Title Game Stuck With an Afternoon Broadcast Spot?

  • The women’s national championship game will be played at 3 p.m. ET Sunday.
  • ABC and ESPN will have non–-March Madness programming in prime time.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on how the cards fall in Friday night’s women’s Final Four games in Cleveland, viewers very well could be served up an all-time classic final of a national championship Sunday: Caitlin Clark, in her final collegiate game, against undefeated South Carolina, with multiple presentations on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN+. So, why, then—given the extraordinary audience numbers already delivered in the Elite Eight—is that game slated to air at 3 p.m. ET? 

Conventional wisdom suggests that such a hyped event would be worthy of a prime-time audience, at least somewhere across Disney’s numerous platforms. When reached for comment, an ESPN spokesperson would only note that the women’s college basketball games “have seen success both in the afternoon and evening.” A fair point: Last year’s title game at the same time slot drew a then record 9.9 million viewers. But couldn’t that be even higher later in the day or evening?

While a source with knowledge of Disney’s programming structure suggests to Front Office Sports that nothing is off the table as plans are made for next year, they point out that ESPN doesn’t have carte blanche access to prime-time windows on ABC. That real estate is controlled by another division of the company. A Disney spokesperson declined to comment on any future plans.

Channel Surfing

After Sunday’s championship game finishes, ABC’s schedule lineup includes local programming, news, America’s Funniest Home Videos, American Idol, and What Would You Do? ESPN will carry a postgame studio show before transitioning to long-running MLB programming in Baseball Tonight and Sunday Night Baseball, followed by the NHL.

Come next week, all eyes will be on the final viewership numbers for the Final Four and championship game, as this is the first year that the audience figures for the women’s tournament could be higher than the men’s tournament, which will conclude on TBS.

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