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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Women’s March Madness Title Game Deserved a True Pregame Show

  • The network will air an hour-long championship pregame show on ABC before the game.
  • ESPN is making improvements to surrounding content, like pre- and post-game shows.
South Carolina Gamecocks center Kamilla Cardoso (10) handles the ball as Mississippi Rebels center Rita Igbokwe (32) defends during the second half at The Sandy and John Black Pavilion at Ole Miss.
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Since 2020, ESPN has made major strides in elevating the NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament to better channels and times. The biggest change in 2023: The championship game will be broadcast on ABC for the first time. 

But game placement isn’t the only issue. A common issue with women’s sports broadcasts is the lack of pre-and post-game coverage — that viewers have pointed out through the years. 

Women’s March Madness Viewership Skyrockets

The ratings exhibit a glimmer of what’s possible when the tournament receives…
April 5, 2022

In the past, viewers expressed frustration over the fact that the network didn’t always provide adequate or accessible coverage — or squeezed it in mere minutes before big games.

The network will air an hour-long championship pregame show on ABC before the game, ESPN producer Patricia Lowry told the Dallas Morning News, to “attract” more viewership.

Presumably, the national platform of the pregame show will alert otherwise unaware sports fans — who just happen to be watching ABC — that the championship game is happening at all. But even more importantly, it will provide the storylines, personalities, and details that millions of fans deserve.

ESPN is trying to prove that it’s the premier network for top women’s basketball, because it’s realized the product is great for ratings.

Since the network has made the women’s tournament more accessible — the first time all games were on national TV was in 2021 — ratings have skyrocketed. ESPN clearly noticed a similar pattern with accompanying broadcast content.

Last year, ESPN presented its most “expansive” Final Four coverage in history — complete with a “Manningcast”-esque show hosted by WNBA legends Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. 

The investment was worth it: South Carolina’s win over UConn in the championship game drew 4.85 million viewers, the most since 2004. The semifinals drew the most viewers since 2012.

Since 2006, the women’s selection show has been on Monday nights. But ESPN switched it to Sunday night, the same as the men’s show. As a result, the women’s bracket reveal saw a 160% jump in viewership compared with the previous year.

The timing is right, as the network is about to go into negotiations with the NCAA for its media rights package of 29 championships, and is interested in retaining women’s hoops, Front Office Sports previously reported.

It may have to pay a hefty price, however. The current deal averages about $34 million for all the sports. Women’s hoops alone could be worth up to $112 million annually.

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